ANIMALS OUT OF PAPERby Rajiv Joseph
Amphibian Stage Productions
Directed by Evan Mueller
Scenic Designer - Sean Urbantke
Costume Designer - Susan Austin
Lighting Designer - Aaron Lentz
Sound Designer - David Lanza
Properties Mistress - Karen Matheny
Stage Manager - Jorday Kelly Andrews
Laurel Whitsett - Ilana
Marshall York - Andy
Andres Ortiz - Suresh
Reviewed Performance: 3/11/2011
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Playwright Rajiv Joseph won the Outstanding Off-Broadway Play of 2009 for this simple story of unlikely relationships between three people, made complex by the patterns, folds and creases of their choices. His style of very naturalistic and humorous dialogue combined with heightened moments of symbolism ? orgami as life.
Renowned orgamist Ilana, had hidden herself away in her art studio for two months after a divorce and loss of her dog. Disturbing her reclusion, Calculus teacher and fellow member of an orgami society Andy asked her to tutor Suresh, his highly intelligent student with an astounding gift for intricate orgami and a similar derailed life. Andy, too, used paper to "hide away", amassing all his blessings from pain into a tiny notebook he'd written in for years. A series of "folds", of choices, led all three to heartbreak, revelation, acceptance and the will to start again with a clean slate, a clean piece of paper.
Rich in allegory and metaphor, Joseph and Animals Out of Paper so masterfully wove the orgami symbolism into its story that any theatre director's heavy-hand could have crushed its message. Amphibian Stage Productions chose this beautiful play, and Director Evan Mueller delicately guided three accomplished actors to find the subtle nuances of relationship, and play on the fragility of the heart.
In three separate settings, Sean Urbantke emphasized each character's emotional state. Ilana buried her feelings under clutter and trash; Suresh's need for order and his newly awakened mind was mirrored in the simple clean lines of the Japanese hotel room; Andy's precarious heart was a match to the easily toppled tiny caf? table and chairs, backed by a paper wall of orgami blueprints. I particularly like the choreographed scene changes between actor and crew. They further reflected the character's feelings ? Andy slowly pulling down the paper wall and wading it up; Suresh packing away and cleaning up Ilana's belongings to feel in control of his surroundings.
Adding yet another dimensional layer to the characters, costuming choices by Susan Austin enveloped Ilana in a huge bathrobe and disengaged her with rumpled, ill-fitting, out of fashion clothes. The final simple, clean, Asian-inspired top, pants and shoes visualized Ilana's evolving mind set and moment of hopeful renewal. Suresh wore baggy jeans, T's, hooded jacket and ear pod as his turtle-shell against pain and an unsure, dreaded future. Andy dressed in stereotypical nerd math teacher attire of khaki pants, odd print top and copper-brown buck suede lace-up shoes with brown socks. He was still a fish out of water in his date suit, still longing to fit in.
There was no specific credit given to who made all the orgami pieces stuffed and strewn over the studio, but Property Mistress Karen Matheny must have had fun finding them, and "decorating" Ilana's place with the barest of kitchen essentials and things to indicate she had moved in permanently. I laughed at all the shoes piled into one small shelving cubby hole on the back wall. As each scene started to end, Aaron Lentz's lighting emphasized one particular part of the set in a slow fade spot. Scenes easily melded one into another, low-lighting each change so we could see the character's evolution.
David Lanza did a wonderful job with his sound designs and music choices. Ilana's door buzzer and intercom had the voice on the street actually come from it instead of a stage speaker (thank you!). Each music choice supported the character or scene, as with the serenity of Still Movement, Op. 2 or Suresh's hip-hop iPad selections. I liked how he off-set the balance so we heard what Ilana heard with only one ear pod and then heard "stereo" when she put both in her ears ? a simple yet clever effect. Another thank you for listing the songs used in this production ? a credit most often overlooked by theatres.
In the role of Ilana, Laurel Whitsett brought a natural aura to Rajiv Joseph's words and honest depth of emotion to her life. In keeping with Ilana's racing mind, Whitsell intrinsically portrayed her insecurity, anger, bewilderment, snide humor, adoration and love. So many of her actions felt so familiar, and that degree of talent and attention to detail goes far beyond the writing.
I was delighted to see Marshall York portray Andy. A tall, lean man, York had such understanding of his body, and every seemingly awkward motion or wild gesture was controlled for greater emphasis. Playing a character that used a daily smile as his front while quietly gathering his pain in a book, York so revered that gentle fa?ade, that his emotionally explosive final scene was startling. Suresh, as played by Andres Ortiz, had two conflicting lives ? know-it-all and mad at the world high school senior with no seaming goals, then loving son and concerned caretaker. Ortiz's hip-hopster swagger and attitude touchingly fell away when talking to his ailing father. Suresh was confused and angry but sometimes Ortiz portrayed all that with heavy breathing when there had been no natural emotion build to that level. It came from the dialogue or action but was seemingly not internally motivated.
Even though this play was an emotional roller coaster ride, it gently glided to an ending of anticipated hopefulness with an after feel of serenity for the audience, like a light shawl around the shoulders. In their continuum of producing new works, Amphibian Stage Productions timed their production well as Rajiv Joseph's newest play, Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo, will soon be opening on Broadway.
Animals Out of Paper lovingly folded and refolded itself within the fragility of the human heart ? sometimes as thin as paper but, more often, as complex and beautiful as the most intricate orgami.
Amphibian Stage Productions
at The Hardy and Betty Sanders Theater
Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy St., Ft Worth,76107
Plays through March 27th
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2 pm,
Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students and $15 for seniors.
For tickets and information, please call 817-923-3012 or go to www.amphibianproductions.org