Arts

Review: In ‘Polylogues,’ Dispatches From Non-Monogamy

If you spend your date nights at the theater, a word of caution about “Polylogues,” Xandra Nur Clark’s provocatively questing new solo show: This is a piece that could either blow up or spice up your evening, depending on how intrigued you are by polyamory — the practice of openly, simultaneously having more than one romantic relationship — and how threatening that prospect might be to you or your partner.

Written and performed by Clark, and presented by the company Colt Coeur at Here, “Polylogues” is a collection of monologues taken from Clark’s interviews with a wide range of people — some queer, some straight — who have practiced polyamory or, in a couple of cases, have parents who do.

Like Trudy, who recalls for Clark the time she casually mentioned her father’s girlfriend in front of a friend’s dad, then had to correct his assumption that her parents had split up.

“And I’m like: ‘No, no, no! They’re polyamorous!’” she says. “And then he looked at me funny. And I’m like, “Polyamorous, as in ‘more than one love.’”

There is plenty of talk of sex in “Polylogues,” but love is the tender element that flows through these often self-scrutinizing monologues. A thoughtful, layered, smirk-free show about people constructing their intimate lives outside socially accepted bounds, it makes a humanizing, live-and-let-live case for consensual, ethical non-monogamy.

“Non-monogamy interacting with male privilege, or interacting with capitalism, can, like produce some really, like, frightening dynamics,” says K, an interviewee full of regret for having once pushed an open relationship on a girlfriend, but endearingly happy with a new girlfriend and a series of other, overlappingpartners.

Directed by Molly Clifford, Clark performs the show wearing earbuds, listening to recordings of her interviewees as she speaks their words. A note in the script describes her as being “more like a medium than an actor, channeling real people into the room.” The program mentions the playwright-performer Anna Deavere Smith — the long-reigning chief wizard of interview-based theater — as an inspiration, and she clearly is.

Whether you call it acting or channeling, though, a piece like “Polylogues” requires the performer to disappear into the characters, to slip in and out of them, to embody them vocally and physically. But there is a sameness to many of these portrayals that blurs distinctions of age, race, geography, gender, class — specifics that would help us feel the breadth and depth of the voices Clark has assembled.

Without projections of the characters’ pseudonymous names — by greer x, on the upstage wall ofJean Kim’s set — we would not be able to distinguish between them, or recognize individuals when they reappear. So the earbuds, intended as a tool, come to seem like a gimmick: a would-be assurance of veracity. And the show, at about 80 minutes, comes to seem overlong.

Still, its monologues are the words of real people, with real lives in the real world. And “Polylogues” is a curious, compassionate portal into a topic we most often see treated with prurience.

Polylogues
Through Oct. 9 at HERE, Manhattan; 212-647-0202, coltcoeur.org. Running time: 80 minutes.

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