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Or Polaroids (Version 2.1)

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

For some, sleep - though a natural part of life - is elusive. Though everyone has suffered from occasional sleepless nights from time to time, when insomnia strikes for lengthy periods of time, it stands to reason that there are more significant problems at hand. And such problems, while perhaps of utmost importance to the people experiencing them, may not connect well with outsiders.

This is the leap of logic that Ken Urban does not make in his new play, Or Polaroids (Version 2.1) at HERE. Of course, Urban also does not truly deal with (or even address) insomnia - it's merely a convenient springboard for about an hour of assorted meditations on the nature of horror, blame, guilt, and other things that tend to keep people up at night.

Each of the play's nine scenes is triggered by a Polaroid photograph of a certain object or location, such as a window, a living room, or a theater auditorium. Though each member of the play's five-person cast - Kristin Stewart Chase, Anni Bluhm, Travis York, Maggie Cino, and Andrew Breving - is ostensibly playing someone attempting to work through their sleep problems, Urban's unrealistic (and, yes, dreamlike) staging of the play suggests that the "characters" are really just different aspects of the personality of one sleepless woman (Chase), the voices in her head that keep her thinking and worrying during the long hours from dusk to dawn.

Urban's language is endlessly descriptive and vividly poetic, every word and phrase working in concert to create a colorful collage of ideas and images. Urban has not succeeded, however, in finding a way to match the ideas he uses with their presentation - the show's nine stories lack the creativity he displayed in his word choice, depicting events such as rape, murder, pornography, revenge, and so on in a sanitized fashion. The stories erupting from the photographs are beautifully told clichés, but clichés nonetheless.

This makes it unsurprising that none of the cast members really stands out. They're all strong-voiced and articulate, and give Urban's words everything they can. But Urban, in both his script and his staging, gives them too little in return. Sarah Conaway's photographs are the one distinct visual element of the production, but even those are rendered unnecessary by Urban's meticulous description - no one is capable of hiding that this is a show that presents no powerful need to be staged.

Were these words released as a radio drama, or in some other form of distinctly audio presentation, it would probably be more immediately appreciable. As it is, the very words Urban wants to use to draw you into a world of greater social awareness falter and belie his goal. Theatre must live on the stage - Or Polaroid lives solely in the ear.

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Or Polaroids (Version 2.1)
Through November 23
Running time: Approximately one hour with no intermission
HERE Arts Center, Dorothy B. Theatre, 145 6th Avenue between Spring and Broome
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 647-0202