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The Power of Storytelling in Polaroid Stories by Naomi Iizuka: A Review and Analysis


Naomi Iizuka's Polaroid Stories: An Adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses




Introduction




Polaroid Stories is a play by Naomi Iizuka, an American playwright of Japanese and Latin American descent. It was first performed in 1997 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays. The play is an adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, a collection of classical myths that explore themes of transformation, love, violence, and power. Iizuka reimagines these myths in a contemporary setting, featuring a group of runaway teenagers who live on the streets, struggling with addiction, abuse, and survival. The play is a visceral blend of classical mythology and real life stories told by street kids, showing how myth-making fulfills a fierce need for transcendence, where storytelling has the power to transform a reality in which characters' lives are continually threatened, devalued, and effaced.




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The main theme and message of Polaroid Stories is that stories are essential for human existence, especially for those who are marginalized and oppressed by society. Stories can provide a sense of identity, belonging, hope, and resistance for those who have nothing else to hold on to. Stories can also challenge the dominant narratives that erase or distort the voices and experiences of the underprivileged. By adapting Ovid's myths to the context of street kids, Iizuka shows how stories can connect different cultures and times, revealing the universal human condition and the timeless relevance of myth.


Characters and Stories




Iizuka creates characters based on Ovid's myths, but gives them new names and personalities that reflect their modern circumstances. For example, Orpheus becomes Orpheus Rex, a drug dealer and aspiring rapper who tries to rescue his girlfriend Eurydice from the underworld of addiction. Eurydice becomes Eurydice Xena Jones, a rebellious and defiant girl who is haunted by her past trauma. Narcissus becomes Narkissos, a self-obsessed boy who falls in love with his own image on a video camera. Echo becomes Echo One-Niner-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine-Zero-Four-Zero-Five-Six-Nine-Eight-Nine, a girl who can only repeat what others say and who is obsessed with Narkissos. Other characters include Persephone, Philomel, Tereus, Daphne, Apollo, Niobe, Zeus, and Skinheadboy.


The play consists of several stories that are adapted from Ovid's myths, but also incorporate elements from interviews that Iizuka conducted with real street kids. Some of the stories are:



  • Orpheus Rex and Eurydice: Orpheus Rex tries to save Eurydice from her addiction by taking her to a rehab center, but she refuses to go and runs away. He follows her to the river, where he is shot by a rival drug dealer. He dies in Eurydice's arms, singing a rap song that he wrote for her.



  • Narkissos and Echo: Narkissos is fascinated by his own image on a video camera that he stole from a tourist. He ignores Echo, who loves him and tries to get his attention. Echo eventually dies of starvation and loneliness, leaving behind only her voice that repeats Narkissos' words.



  • Persephone and Hades: Persephone is a naive and innocent girl who is kidnapped by Hades, a pimp who forces her into prostitution. She tries to escape, but Hades tricks her into eating a pomegranate seed, which binds her to him forever. She becomes a hardened and cynical woman who no longer cares about anything.



  • Philomel and Tereus: Philomel is a mute girl who communicates through drawings. She is raped by Tereus, a violent and abusive man who cuts off her tongue to silence her. She manages to send a message to her sister Procne, who kills Tereus' son and feeds him to Tereus as revenge. Philomel and Procne are transformed into birds by the gods.



  • Daphne and Apollo: Daphne is a beautiful and free-spirited girl who loves nature and hates men. She is pursued by Apollo, a handsome and arrogant boy who thinks he can have any girl he wants. She rejects him and runs away, but he catches up with her. She prays to the gods for help, and they turn her into a laurel tree.



The characters and stories reflect the lives of street kids, who face violence, exploitation, addiction, loneliness, and death every day. They also show how the street kids use stories as a way of coping with their harsh reality, creating their own identities and myths that give them some meaning and dignity.


Style and Structure




Iizuka uses language, imagery, and symbolism in Polaroid Stories to create a vivid and poetic representation of the street kids' world. She mixes different registers of speech, such as slang, profanity, poetry, rap, and classical references, to capture the diversity and creativity of the street kids' voices. She also uses metaphors and similes that draw from nature, mythology, religion, and pop culture, to create striking images that contrast the beauty and ugliness of the street kids' lives. For example:


"She was like a flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk.""He was like a god walking among mortals.""She was like a star falling from the sky.""He was like a bullet flying through the air."


Iizuka structures the play as a collage of snapshots that are taken by an unseen photographer named Darius. The snapshots are projected on a screen at the beginning of each scene, showing the characters in different poses and situations. The snapshots are also accompanied by captions that provide some information or commentary on the characters or stories. The snapshots serve as a framing device that connects the scenes together, but also as a metaphor for the fragmented and ephemeral nature of the street kids' lives.


Reception and Criticism




Polaroid Stories was well received by critics and audiences when it premiered in 1997, winning several awards and nominations, such as the PEN Center USA West Award for Drama, the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award, and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The play was praised for its innovative and powerful use of language, imagery, and structure, as well as its daring and compassionate portrayal of street kids. The play was also recognized for its contribution to contemporary American theater, especially for its exploration of multiculturalism, identity, and myth.


However, the play also faced some criticism and controversy, mainly for its adaptation of Ovid's myths and its representation of street kids. Some critics argued that the play distorted or trivialized the classical myths by transplanting them to a modern context that lacked their original meaning and significance. Some critics also questioned the authenticity and accuracy of the play's depiction of street kids, suggesting that the play romanticized or sensationalized their lives, or that it exploited their stories for dramatic effect. Some critics also challenged the play's political and social implications, asking whether the play offered any solutions or alternatives for the problems that the street kids faced.


Despite these criticisms, Polaroid Stories remains a relevant and influential play that challenges and inspires audiences to rethink their assumptions and prejudices about street kids, as well as their own relationship to stories and myths.


Conclusion




In conclusion, Polaroid Stories is a play by Naomi Iizuka that adapts Ovid's Metamorphoses to tell the stories of street kids who live on the margins of society. The play shows how stories can provide a sense of identity, belonging, hope, and resistance for those who have nothing else to hold on to. The play also shows how stories can challenge the dominant narratives that erase or distort the voices and experiences of the underprivileged. By using language, imagery, and structure that blend classical mythology and real life stories, Iizuka creates a vivid and poetic representation of the street kids' world. The play has received both praise and criticism for its adaptation of Ovid's myths and its representation of street kids. The play has also contributed to contemporary American theater by exploring themes of multiculturalism, identity, and myth.


Some questions for further discussion or research are:



  • How does Iizuka use different sources of information, such as interviews, documentaries, books, and articles, to create her characters and stories? How does she cite or acknowledge these sources in her play?



  • How does Iizuka use music and sound in her play? What role do they play in creating mood, atmosphere, and meaning?



  • How does Iizuka use gender and sexuality in her play? How do they affect the characters' identities and relationships?



  • How does Iizuka use humor and irony in her play? How do they affect the tone and message of the play?



  • How does Iizuka use violence and death in her play? How do they affect the audience's emotions and reactions?



To end with a catchy statement or a quote, here is what Iizuka said about her play in an interview:


"I think what I'm interested in is how we make sense out of our lives through stories. And how we tell stories about ourselves that may or may not be true. And how we invent ourselves through stories."(Naomi Iizuka)


FAQs





  • Q: What is Polaroid Stories about?A: Polaroid Stories is a play by Naomi Iizuka that adapts Ovid's Metamorphoses to tell the stories of street kids who live on the margins of society.



  • Q: Who is Naomi Iizuka?A: Naomi Iizuka is an American playwright of Japanese and Latin American descent. She is one of the most commissioned playwrights in contemporary theater.



  • Q: What is Ovid's Metamorphoses?A: Ovid's Metamorphoses is a collection of classical myths that explore themes of transformation, love, violence, and power.



  • Q: How does Iizuka adapt Ovid's myths to the context of street kids?A: Iizuka reimagines Ovid's myths in a contemporary setting, featuring a group of runaway teenagers who live on the streets, struggling with addiction, abuse, and survival. She also incorporates elements from interviews that she conducted with real street kids.



  • Q: What is the main theme and message of Polaroid Stories?A: The main theme and message of Polaroid Stories is that stories are essential for human existence, especially for those who are marginalized and oppressed by society. Stories can provide a sense of identity, belonging, hope, and resistance for those who have nothing else to hold on to. Stories can also challenge the dominant narratives that erase or distort the voices and experiences of the underprivileged.



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