BWW Reviews: Ensemble's ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER Is A Challenging Look at How the Folds Affect Life
Cleveland has several young and dynamic playwrights who are making a name for themselves on the national scene. Eric Coble's BRIGHT IDEAS had an off-Broadway presentation, after its Cleveland Play House run. His THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, which had a staging at Beck Center, and starred Dorothy Silver, is readying for a Broadway production which will star Estelle Parsons.
Cleveland Heights native Rajiv Joseph, has been labeled "one of today's most acclaimed young playwrights," has the awards to back up the claim. He's received the Paula Vogel Award for Most Acclaimed Young Playwrights, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play of 2009, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama for BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, which had a Broadway run and starred Robin Williams.
Joseph, who has a "fascination with the power of language," uses that language to probe "the origins of human artistic impulse and ask what they mean for those enslaved to it."
ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER is in production at Ensemble Theatre, which seems to act as Joseph's home theatre. The company, headed by long time Joseph friend, Celeste Cosentino, has done one of his plays in each of its last three seasons.
ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER centers on an unlikely trio of people. Ilana, a world renowned origami artist, has perfected the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative and representational forms, to the extent that she has written the second best selling book on the subject. Andy is a math teacher, and Suresh, a troubled youth whose mother was recently killed in an accident.
Ilana has barricaded herself in her littered studio surrounded by origami creations, Chinese take-out boxes, and piles of unused paper. She has not only lost her husband, but her three-legged dog has run off, and her will to fold has disappeared. Her life is much like the crumpled papers that litter the floor.
Andy is a nerdy math teacher who has an artistic and physical crush on Ilana, as a result of meeting her at a national origami convention where he was a student in one of her seminars. He writes of this obsession and views of life in a notebook. He journals because he once opened a fortune cookie, which told him to "count your blessings." He comes to Ilana's loft, not only to meet her in person, but to sell her on mentoring Suresh, one of his students who shows a natural talent for origami, as his mentor.
Suresh, in contrast to Ilana, and other well known origami artists, doesn't sketch out his work to decide on the order of each fold. Instead, he works by instinct. He perceives that actions, rather than developing a step-by-step plan, is the way to create. His inspiration is the rap music he listens to in his ever-plugged in headphones. He is in conflict as his life requires order, which has eluded him, while his origami, which should be based on set patterns, doesn't follow orderliness.
The plot deepens when Andy and Ilana entangle their lives, and Suresh develops a fascination for Ilana. Each probes for how they can exist in the world. Recognizing, to some extent that, "So much of what I am is what I've lost."
Ensemble's production, under the directorship of Celeste Cosentino, creates the play's essence, but fails to dig deeply enough into the characters and their motivations to give full meaning to Joseph's well crafted script.
Katherine DeBoer creates an Ilana into a real person, complete with outward and hidden angst.
Geoff Knox is properly anxiety filled. There are times when he falls back on a geeky speech pattern which somewhat distracts.
Andrew Samtoy, generally displays his inner conflict. In several scenes, such as when he is creating rap songs, he fails to let lose and capture the meaning of the words.
Ian Hinz's projection designs are excellent. Using visual images, rather than real sets, helps develop the artistic nature of the work.
The many intricate origami creations used in the production were supplied by The Public Theatre in Maine.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER is an often amusing, thought provoking play about what happens when the lives of mismatched people collide in complicated ways that highlight hurt and the challenges of individuals who don't know who they are or how to be in the world. The Ensemble production doesn't quite reach the quality of the play's writing, but does hold attention and leaves the audience thinking.