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Polylogues– HERE Arts Center, New York, NY

Writer: Xandra Nur Clark

Director: Molly Clifford

Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell

As theatres reopen for live performance, many venues are presenting work that was postponed due to the pandemic. HERE Arts Center’s offerings include work from their Sublet Series, a curated rental program that allows independent artists to present work in HERE’s space. Colt Coeur’s Polylogues is the most recent Sublet Series production. A solo show about nonmonogamy, Polylogues was written and performed by Xandra Nur Clark and directed by Molly Clifford.

In the course of writing Polylogues, Xandar Nur Clark conducted over fifty interviews with people participating in or directly impacted by polyamorous relationships. The result is twenty distinct stories woven together, depicting a variety of complex experiences with polyamory. Stories range from devoted couples who enjoy sexual adventures with other partners to a Dominant analyzing BDSM hierarchies to children discussing what it means to have parents in an open relationship. Clark plays each of these roles as audio of the interviews plays on Bluetooth headphones; she then reflects the speaker’s verbal delivery and physical mannerisms without changes in costume or set. As director Molly Clifford explains in the show’s prologue “[y]ou’ll only hear [their] voice[s] through Xandra’s voice.” Projected pseudonyms help guide us. Some characters tell their story in one go, while for others we circle back two or three times before they are done. What is presented is not a singular narrative but rather a collage that reflects ethical nonmonogamy something that is broadly practiced by a diverse population.

Polylogues is deeply reminiscent of the work of Anna Devere-Smith, so it was no surprise to read in the playwright’s note that Clark studied with Devere-Smith in 2013. Many solo shows have tried to borrow from Devere-Smith’s work, but very often they seek to highlight how skilled the performer is with accents or quick shifts in character rather than focusing on the broad picture that the subjects reflect. Where Clark succeeds in channelling Devere-Smith’s work is that she doesn’t try to turn herself into the subjects of her interviews. Clark never lets us forget that these are interviews; no subject’s story turns into a monologue. Instead, she shows us what she experienced during the interview. Press for Polylogues aptly described Clark as “[c]loser to a medium than to an actor” and indeed we do not believe that she is an evangelical Christian swinger, but we are placed in Clark’s memory of the interview. Clark’s choice to employ Bluetooth technology allows her to directly channel the verbal tone and delivery of her subjects as she hears it. Dialect coach Joy Lanceta Coronel ably guided Clark in making sure that the subjects’ various accents were clear and present but never overwhelming or cartoonish.

In addition to an excellent performance, Clark presents a thoughtful and nuanced look at nonmonogamy. While the interviews often reflect positive and loving experiences, they also show us darker sides in polyamorous experiences like racism and dishonesty. While many stories addressed sex, it never felt like Clark’s goal was to titillate, but rather to illustrate the ways in which nonmonogamy is about much more than sex. Technical elements such as Jean Kim’s set, Hanji Jang’s costumes, Cheyenne Sykes’s lighting, Michael Costagliola’s sound, and greer x’s projections are simple and strong, allowing us to focus on the interviewees’ stories. Overall, Polylogues is a thought-provoking, engaging and often funny look at polyamory. It is definitely worth our attention.

Runs until 9 October 2021 | Photo Credit: Ashely Garrett

The Reviews Hub Score

Insightful & Brave

The Reviews Hub - America

The American team is under the editorship of Adrienne Sowers. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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