Know When to Fold ‘Em

4. February, 2010 Theater No comments

Thirteenth show of 2010: Animals out of Paper, SF Playhouse, February 2.

Aly Mawji and Lorri Holt. Photo by Jessica Palopoli

Ilana Andrews should be folding. A prominent origami artist, she’s been commissioned to design a crease pattern for a sleeve that can fit through a hole in the chest and then unfurl to clutch the human heart. But Ilana’s had folder’s block for weeks, ever since her marriage fell apart and her dog ran away, and she’s been holed up in her art studio as her life has folded in on itself.

That’s where we are at the beginning of Rajiv Joseph’s play Animals out of Paper, which premiered at New York’s Second Stage Theatre in 2008 and is now being given its West Coast premiere by SF Playhouse. Upon entering the theater you’re greeted by artistic director Bill English’s terrific set of a cramped and messy studio seen on a diagonal, with piles of clothes and papers all over the place, and an impressive stack of used Chinese takeout boxes. A large paper hawk dominates the room, and other impressive origami animals stand on the shelves or hang from the ceiling. The origami art for the production was created by artists from Bay Area Rapid Folders, and local origami artists were consulted throughout the preparation for the piece.

As the play begins a guy shows up at the door of Ilana’s building in the pouring rain asking to be buzzed in. After much deliberation (and an amusing silent monologue because he doesn’t know the intercom’s off), she lets him up. It turns out to be Andy Froling, the treasurer for American Origami, come to check on her because her mail is being returned to sender. “I crawl into a hole for two months, and the only person who notices is the treasurer for American Origami,” Ilana says in exasperation.

Played with infectious enthusiasm by David Deblinger, Andy is chatty and dorkily charming, a high school calculus teacher who literally counts his blessings and writes them down in a little book where he’s been compiling them since he was twelve. Bright-eyed and self-effacing, wherever he is, he’s just happy to be there. With a great reserve of pent-up energy and great comic timing, Lorri Holt gives a particularly affecting performance as Ilana. Initially impatient and introverted, she becomes less closed off as the play progresses, but retains a guarded quality even when most at her ease that ultimately seems like a hard-won quality of being an adult, something appealingly lacking in Andy’s childlike sense of wonder.

Andy clearly has a crush on Ilana, and he’s come with a hidden agenda—to ask her to tutor his student Suresh, a prodigy who’s never challenged enough and who has shown an eerie instinctive knack for intricate origami. Ilana demurs, just wanting to be left alone, but is enchanted by samples of the kid’s talent.

Aly Mawji has great intensity as Suresh, a teenage genius who affects a blasé, standoffish attitude and hip-hop patois but at the same time is a sensitive neatnik with a compulsion to put other people’s things in order. Suresh recently lost his mother in a hit-and-run accident, and in his cell phone calls his whole persona falls away it sounds like he’s singlehandedly holding his family together. The scenes in which he dances his way through cleaning up the studio or holds forth on the relationship between freestyle rapping and origami are especially compelling. (The choreography’s by Kimberly Richards, with Daveed Diggs as a hip-hop consultant.)

Director Amy Glazer’s tightly paced staging handles both the comedy and the pathos beautifully, punctuated with bursts of jazz between scenes. Steve Schoenbeck’s skillful sound design deftly captures ambient rain and street sounds, or the gradations of iPod music heard through one earbud, both earbuds, or heard from a distance. All aspects of the production and performances fall into place marvelously and make it a delight to see what Joseph’s intriguing and thoroughly entertaining play shapes into as it unfolds.

Animals out of Paper
Through February 27
SF Playhouse
533 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA

About author

No comments yet.

Be first to leave your comment!




Your comment:

Add your comment