Cast Shines despite 'Polaroid Stories'; Iizuka's Mythology Update Sullies Tale

Article excerpt

Byline: Jayne Blanchard, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Studio Theatre and classic mythology can make for an uneasy pairing. Last season's ambitious production of "Prometheus" was saturated with saccharine New Age-y gloppiness, and this summer's Secondstage offering, "Polaroid Stories," tries to graft stories from Ovid's "Metamorphoses" upon the self-dramatizing tall tales of street children and teenage prostitutes.

Playwright Naomi Iizuka's idea looked good on paper - literally, since the play was also inspired in part by Jim Goldberg's 1987 photo essay, "Raised by Wolves," about the lives of homeless teenagers on the streets of San Francisco and Seattle. Struck by a teenager's lie about how he was one of a set of twins born into a prominent family and then cast into the wild, Miss Iizuka drew parallels to the Romulus and Remus myth, and the conceit for "Polaroid Stories" was born.

Written in the late 1990s, "Polaroid Stories" already seems dated - a sepia-toned photo journal of the mean streets, fraught with cheap sex, drugs, abuse and violence. It is like the musical "Rent," only without the blistering rock score and the air of urgency.

"Polaroid Stories" shows ugliness and degradation galore, but it doesn't offer fresh insights or even a penetrating look into the realities of teen homelessness. There isn't even any shock value to stimulate us. Director Keith Alan Baker takes the more-is-more approach to the production, piling on the music, sound and lighting effects and movement in the hope something sticks.

The attempt to invest these young people with mythical status by linking them to gods and goddesses fails. Poorly integrated, the myths seem pasted on rather than organic to the characters' personalities. Especially since the teenagers, when being their everyday selves, speak in a mundane drone of profanity and common vulgarities. Just when you think they can't even say "hello" without using the f-word, the characters start spouting overheated, ornate prose about rivers, stars, love, gods and death. What are they doing, hallucinating CliffsNotes?

There are only a few situations where this insertion of elevated language works. …