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Lost teens become gods in moving TDPS production of ‘Polaroid Stories’



UCB"s Theater, Dance and Performance Studies (TDPS) presents Naomi Iizuka's Polaroid Stories, an eye-opening depiction of the lives of street youth woven together with tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Directed by TDPS lecturer Margo Hall, this dark social commentary on street teens runs March 3-12 at Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC Berkeley Campus. Based on Iizuka's interviews with sex workers and runaways, Polaroid Stories elevates complex tales of life on the street by using poetic language and mythological figures. Set in a dilapidated urban landscape, Polaroid Stories follows a group of teenagers, portrayed as mythological characters, as they hustle, steal, and try to survive the streets. Narcissus is a young street hustler obsessed with his own visage while living off wealthy men who desire him. Orpheus obsessively follows and harasses his girlfriend, Eurydice, who is trying to escape his stifling love. (BWW SF News Desk)

Director Margo Hall was originally drawn to Polaroid Stories by Iizuka's use of language. "She takes abrasive and unapologetic urban language and makes it poetic in a way that you can hear and listen to," says Margo. "You are drawn in because of the melody. Language like that can seem repetitive, which it is in her piece, but the words that she chooses to repeat and the rhythm of it keep you interested as opposed to distanced from it." (BWW SF News Desk)



There is no doubting that here at UC Berkeley, many students find themselves living in a bubble. Often, students have a home to go back to, food to eat and access to higher education and it sometimes becomes easy to forget about the rest of the world. In the UC Berkeley department of theater, dance and performance studies’ production of “Polaroid Stories,” director Margo Hall attempts to burst this bubble with heart-wrenching performances told in a series of vignettes about street youth and their struggles to escape their own lives.

Naomi Iizuka’s script descends into the underworld of these homeless youth as they don the names of ancient Greek mythological figures and consequently, their traits. Orpheus, clad in a Nirvana t-shirt, is the hopeless romantic. Persephone, with waist-length curls, is grappling with how to forget her past. And Narcissus, draped in rainbow rave gear, knows how good he looks.

“Polaroid Stories” begins with a spotlight on a balcony upstage-left illuminating a girl in gray rags, played by Anya Cherniss, performing a haunting rendition of “You are my Sunshine” to the audience. The stage lights come on and Persephone, played by Jordan Don, enters and begins her monologue. It’s not immediately evident that this play is supposed to be an adaptation of Greek mythology, but once she begins making allusions to the River Lethe and creating ties to her life and the fantasy world of these myths, the audience gains another lens with which to interpret this narrative. (Paris Shockley · played Eurydice)

The play’s vignette style attempts to reveal these characters’ backgrounds through a series of snapshots. Each snapshot exposes a piece of a character’s background, either through interactions with the other players or through revealing monologues.

The gods are immortal, and therefore they exist without the notion of time. In this way these teenagers, who are caught in the grips of a world whose economy is based on drugs and sex work, are much like the gods. Most of these characters have let the notion of future slip away, and with that comes a sense of immortality and invincibility. With no tomorrow, the play has a sense of chronology that gives the audience the same sense of stagnancy that the characters grapple with.

These kids fall into the same habits repeatedly and consequently, they have no plot arc to follow. Despite this, where “Polaroid Stories” shines is not in how it brings the characters forward but how it brings the audience back into their pasts. Through their monologues, these teenagers cut themselves open and spill out onto the stage.

Skinhead Boy, played by Baela Tinsley, is the manic drug addict who has escaped from his life in Oklahoma. For most of the play, his dialogue between the other characters just shows a lost kid who has fallen into the grips of addiction. Only after an altercation with Dionysus does he become more than what his name would entail. He lays slumped against a chain link fence and delivers a gut-wrenching monologue about his experiences with childhood abuse.

“Polaroid Stories” touches on themes of prostitution, addiction, the LGBTQ+ community and abuse. What’s tricky about a play about these subject matters is that they are extraordinarily difficult to perform. At times it felt that the actors were not fully equipped to take on the implications of these characters’ lives, and there were points in which the dramatization of these characters took away from the nuances of the people who they were representing.

However, despite the challenge of these roles, the players never allowed the show to lose its poignancy. Not only did the performers put on a moving show, but the set, the sound and the production were on par with professional performances. This dynamic play is an important way in which to not only experience the lives of those written by Iizuka, but also to understand how valuable it is for UC Berkeley’s theater department to be brave enough to bring these kinds of stories to light.

UC Berkeley's Department of Theater,

Dance and Performance Studies presents

“Polaroid Stories”

Written by Naomi Iizuka

Directed by Margo Hall

Original music composed by Marcus Shelby.

Closes March 12th

Zellerbach Playhouse.

UCB Campus, Berk Ca.

Runs 2 hours no intermission

General admission tickets are $18 online and $20 at the door

Tickets for students, seniors, UC Berkeley Faculty & staff

$13 online and $15 at the door.

Tickets TDPS Box Office at

Contact Annalise Kamegawa at

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