—Originally published May 4, 2015—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see plays together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw Lovers & Madmen’s production of Naomi Izuka’s “Polaroid Stories,” directed by Elliott Hartman. Let’s hear what they had to say as they walked from the theatre…
“What time is it?” asked Dania, as she picked up her coat.
“Hold on,” said Eleanor, as she waited for her phone to turn back on.
Gwen looked at her phone. “It’s 12:50,” she said. “You know you can just put your phone on airplane mode, right?”
“Whatever, whatever,” Eleanor mumbled, shooing her away.
“Ugh.” groaned Dania. “I have to be up in the morning.”
“What do you have to do on a Saturday morning?” asked Gwen.
“We’re building a solar car in 205-3, tomorrow is the first test run of the thing. I have to be at tech at 10 in the morning.”
“That’s awful,” said Eleanor, putting her phone away. “You shouldn’t have come to an 11pm show, then.”
“Yeah,” said Dania, with a touch more emphasis in her voice. “I probably shouldn’t have.”
“Well, it was a great show regardless,” said Gwen.
“Sure.” Dania looked around. “Are we heading back?”
“One second, I want to look at the info on the wall over there.”
“Okay.” Dania started for the door of Shanley.
“We’ll wait outside for you,” Eleanor added, and walked out of the building. Edging through the narrow walkway between the stage boundaries and the rising audience, Gwen made her way over to the North Wall of Shanley, where a dozen or so printouts told about the background of the show. Homelessness, Ovid, Metamorphoses, the director’s vision, Minneapolis, and so on. She read over the information, mesmerized.
Meanwhile, outside, Dania and Eleanor stood in the roundabout in front of the theatre. Dania yawned.
“I gotta get to bed,” she said, her hands falling heavily into her coat pockets.
Eleanor was leafing through the pages of the program. She stopped on the cast list, and stared at it, perplexed.
“All right, I know which one was SKINHEAD(boy), but who were the other ones?”
“That guy with the beard was G. Philomel was the one with the guitar. Narcissus…”
“Oh, well, I got Narcissus. That one was obvious.”
“They were all kind of obvious. I kind of wish they weren’t.”
Eleanor continued to look through the program in silence. After a moment, Dania spoke again.
“I’m going to go sit on that bench.”
“Don’t fall asleep!” Eleanor called, as Dania walked over and sat down.
Gwen came out of Shanley, clutching her program and moving directly to Eleanor. “All right, let’s get back.”
“Too late,” Eleanor said, pointing to Dania. “She’s collapsed.”
Gwen, rolling her eyes, went over to the bench and, with love reserved for her roommate, poked Dania in the arm.
“Ow!” said Dania, with a spark of energy.
“Great, you’re up,” said Gwen. “Let’s get back.”
The three girls walked away from Shanley, the May wind biting against them.
“So,” said Eleanor. “Let’s hear what Gwen thought first. I’m pretty sure I know what it is.”
“I thought it was great,” Gwen responded, her hand still gripping the program. “I love that modernization of the classic problems. It really puts everything in perspective, you know? That these are people’s actual lives. That they’re having to live through classical tragedy. It’s heartbreaking.”
She paused briefly, looking for a specific name in the program.
“Pratap Jayaram. The set design. So minimal, yet so exactly what the show needed. It looked like this abandoned place, like these kind of ruins of a previous society.”
Eleanor nodded. “Yeah, I kind of connected it to what we would look like if we were as far in the past as the Metamorphoses. Like, what ‘ancient American ruins’ would look like.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Gwen nodded in agreement. “And the lighting, the lighting by…Gus Berrizbeitia, I thought that was a nice touch. It’s hard to make something that feels deliberately dark without just making the whole stage dark. That part where Orpheus was standing right in front of that light – I thought that was clever design.”
“I guess,” said Dania. “I was just glad it kept the light out of my eyes.”
“That would have woken you up,” said Eleanor, turning her attention to her tired friend.
“I didn’t fall asleep during the show. I really didn’t,” said Dania.
Gwen looked puzzled. “Were you trying to?”
“I mean, no, but…”
“So, Dania,” said Eleanor, preparing for the coming disagreements, “did you like the show?”
Dania groaned, and then spoke very softly, “not really.”
“What?” Gwen reacted. “But it was such a fascinating look at teenage poverty!”
“I’m sure the show was very good and everything,” Dania said. “But it was really boring.”
“Boring?!” Gwen shouted. Eleanor shushed her, as the exclamation reverberated off the concrete around them. “How could you find it boring? I was so tuned into everything going on. That couple, the one where he brought her food and they were eating fries and wearing Burger King crowns…”
“Orpheus and Eurydice,” Dania responded.
“Yes! Orpheus and Eurydice! They were darling! I was heartbroken when they were split up!”
“But they were always split up,” Dania said. “We never saw them together, or saw them break up. They were just distant the whole time.”
“But you could definitely tell that they were together at some point.”
“Yeah, at some point. Not when I was watching. Why leave out the most interesting thing to watch?”
Gwen’s fist tightened around her program. “Well, maybe they thought that by focusing on something else, you’d find it more interesting to watch!”
“Well,” Dania replied, trying to end the conversation. “That clearly didn’t work!”
“Girls!” Eleanor stopped Gwen from speaking again. “Can’t we just agree that it’s an…interesting piece of theatre? It might not be as engaging as something else…”
“I would argue it is!” said Gwen.
“Yes, sure! So it’s engaging for different people different ways. Maybe we’d understand it a little more if we knew the Metamorphoses better.”
“Oh, I know all about the Metemorphoses,” said Dania.
Gwen and Eleanor snapped to look at their friend.
“You know the Metamorphoses?” Gwen said in shock.
Dania rolled her eyes. “Well, it is Roman. It got translated into languages other than English, white girl.”
Gwen stopped talking, but Eleanor continued. “Did you study it in school, or read it for pleasure or something?”
“I had an Urdu copy of a bunch of the most popular fables at home as a kid. So, yeah. Orpheus and Eurydice, Narcissus and Echo, Philomel – I know the Metamorphoses.”
Eleanor considered this.
“Do either of you know the Metamorphoses?”
“I mean,” Eleanor said, defending herself, “I know the basis of a lot of the stories.”
“But have you read it?”
Gwen looked up from thinking. “I’ve read some of the Jason and Medea stories, as far as they relate to the ancient Greek plays. But those aren’t in Polaroid Stories.”
“Yeah,” said Dania. “If you know the Metamorphoses, it doesn’t really help. The parallels are so obvious, so you just kind of know what’s going to happen. There’s less surprise about everything.”
“But…” Gwen stopped, searching for words. “It’s so important!”
“It is important, Gwen,” said Eleanor. “I agree with that. I’m glad I saw it.”
“It’s just that…homelessness is such a huge issue for how little people talk about it!” Gwen shifted her focus over to Dania, talking directly to her. “And the show does a great job of actually putting you into the world of these kids, even if that world is taken from older stories. It’s about sympathy, Dania! You have to be able to sympathize with them!”
“I do sympathize with them!” Dania said, defensively. “I just don’t necessarily want to watch them.”
“I don’t get that,” said Gwen. “A life different than your own? With more struggles than you could imagne having? How isn’t that engaging to watch?”
“What is the plot of Polaroid Stories?” asked Eleanor, suddenly.
“The plot?” asked Gwen.
“Yeah, how would you describe the plot?”
“It’s about a bunch of homeless kids in Minneapolis, and the troubles that they go through – which are all based on Ovid’s stories.”
“But what happens in it?”
“They…all go through the stories of the Metamorphoses, what are you getting at?”
“Well,” Eleanor said, “I think what Dania is getting at is that there isn’t really a central conflict or character to follow the entire time.”
“I mean…” Gwen said, “there is. Dionysus is the narrator. She is bringing the audience through all the stories. I thought Elliott did a nice job of directing it and shaping it to give it direction.”
“Well, I just…”
“Look, I get what you’re saying,” Gwen said, cutting Eleanor off. “Yes, the play is a collection of smaller stories. But Elliott made them flow into one another. He made it about a community of people, rather than about a bunch of individuals. I think that’s noble.”
“Sure, fine.” said Dania.
The girls walked home, with a few more positive words exchanged on the individual elements of the play. When they got home, Dania went into her room and collapsed onto the bed. When Gwen entered only a few minutes afterwards, she was already fast asleep.