Three of Boston's small theater companies have banded together to mount a captivating production of Naomi Iizuka's "Polaroid Stories."
Boston Actors Theater, Happy Medium Theatre, and Heart & Dagger Productions bring 17 actors together for a dazzling inquiry into the personal anguish of loneliness and heartbreak. The play, co-directed by Joey C. Pelletier and Elise Weiner Wulff, relies not on props but on choreography, and not on set design but on the evocative power of shadow, wreathing the black box performance space at the Boston Center for the Arts in a darkness that speaks directly to the obscurity in which tormented hearts dwell.
Iizuka's play re-casts mythic figures in a decidedly contemporary fashion, transporting them from dusty classics tomes to an urban underworld full of seedy encounters, illicit drugs, and lost souls. Narcissus (Michael Underhill) is a male hustler, a young man full of braggadocio and tall tales; Echo (Elizabeth Battey) first mimics, then challenges him, peeling back his veneer of cocky sexuality to probe his insecurities.
G (Jesse Wood) is an "old man," or at least older than the drugged-up street kids who inhabit this latter-day Hades. G once loved a woman--"She was my queen"--but her love for him was eclipsed by need (in this case, for heroin). G, tantalizingly, might well stand for "God," and the character has something of an intermittent (or reluctant) omniscience about him, but he's as lost and desolate as any other spirit in the play's subterranean realm.
Hades is ruled over by D (Mikey DiLoreto), a pansexual dealer who surveys the erratic action from a suitable throne: set designer Sean A. Cote has placed D on a toilet that serves both as regal perch and handy hidey-hole for D's supply of drugs. But D is not the slick, malicious embodiment of evil one might have imagined; rather, he has the same parental issues as anybody else, maybe even worse, given that his father was a god and his mother one of those errant mortals who can't seem to resist a little divinely erotic adventure. Like all the other denizens of his nether land, D is trapped in an endless fog of repetitious misery: Each throb seems new and freshly intense, but the source of his pain, and the conflicts that arise around it, are forever the same.
The play's core is also its most recognizable story. Eurydice (Melissa DeJesus), bored by her lover Orpheus (Luke Murtha) and put off by his shallow-verging-on-empty protestations of love, either wanders into the afterlife by accident or takes herself there deliberately, perhaps as the result of an overdose and maybe as a means of escaping Orpheus. (This play, first produced in 1997, pre-dates Sarah Ruhl's similarly-themed "Eurydice" by about a decade.) Of all the play's characters, Eurydice seems the closest to happiness; she, after all, has "drunk from the river of forgetfulness," while those around her cling to their memories of betrayal and loss.
But Iizuka isn't simply making a point about how holding on to the pain of things that have slipped through our fingers holds us back and threatens to bury us. She's playing a zesty, darkly comic game of mix-and-match; Echo doesn't simply shadow Narcissus; she checks out some of the other people in Hades, too. Eurydice and G take a stroll to pass the time during their eternal, dark afternoon of damnation. "Oklahoma Boy," a.k.a. Skinhead Boy, a.k.a. "Nazi Mike," flirts dangerously with D and crosses paths with friends and foes alike.
Myth doesn't just take to our deteriorating streets in this play; it jumps and sizzles and cross-pollinates. The cast brings together some scintillating talent and Pelletier and Wulff know how to bring their performers into a synergistic whole. The production may be simple in terms of props, but it's complex in storytelling; the narrative construction here is one of snapshots, but the portrait that emerges is more than a collage, it's a crafty and illuminating psychological study. Moreover, this vision of Hades may be murky, but the production crystallizes into a smartly realized vision.
"Polaroid Stories" continues through July 14 at the Boston Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, located at 539 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.
Tickets cost $20 general admission, $5 for seniors and students. The play contains mature themes that may not be suitable for younger viewers.
Performance schedule: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 3:00 p.m. There will also be a Wednesday evening performance on July 11 at 7:30 p.m.