By Rajiv Jospeh
Directed by Devon de Mayo
Produced by Shattered Globe Theatre
At Theater Wit, Chicago
Interesting, yet ultimately unfulfilling, comic-drama reshaping more than paper figures
Playwright Rajiv Joseph, in Animals Out Of paper, tells a story about a unique web of teacher-student relationships. We meet Ilana (Courtney McKenna), a famous reclusive origami artist and teacher who suffers from depression due to a divorce and loss of her aged dog. Her anti-social escape from society is interrupted by a quirky, yet most sincere fan of hers, Andy (the winning Joseph Wiens), as he talks his way into her studio apartment.
Ilana’s studio is a mess yet it contains several amazing specimens of origami (created by Christine Edison). Andy is a lovable soul who adores Ilana both as an artist and a person. Andy is a special person who literally counts his blessings (on paper). He persuades Ilana to mentor one of Andy’s high school students, Suresh (Awate Serequeberhan), a genius mathematician and a savant-like origami artist. Suresh is a hip-hop rapper want-to-be who crudely tries to impress Ilana with a foul mouth, but once his machismo subsides, he becomes charming as he exudes his creative genius for both rapping and origami.
While Ilana and Suresh bond and exchange their creative process, Andy courts Ilana, as he is smitten by her. Their relationship stretches credulity since Ilana is presented as a nasty, arrogant, and unlovable person. But, apparently, Andy is so tolerant of her foibles that he is blinded to her real personality.
Ilana bonds with Suresh while her relationship with Andy blossoms.Without giving away more, let me state that boundaries are crossed between a wholesome mentor-student relationship while on an origami trip to Nagasaki, Japan. Andy and Suresh’s worlds are shattered by those events. Animals Out of Paper is a play is about how each of the three characters lives will change in the future as a result of the events in this ninety minute one act. The play’s purpose seems to be in what the characters will do the play. To me that is, at first glimpse, is interesting but I have a hard time understanding why Ilana appears to be so appealing to Andy and Sureash? Simply put, Ilana is not a nice person; she is self-centered; a cold prospect who comes off as insincere. She justifies all her actions with taking into account the consequences of her actions. Awate Serequeberhan and Joseph Wiens are outstanding and quite truthful presenting their characters.
There are too many loose ends that beg to be resolved. Too bad since Animals Out of Paper has some smartly clever scenes and plot twists that need more development. Yet, this play deserves a look since it is a quirky take on the mentor-student relationship that reminds me loosely of the film Finding Forrester.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 22, 2016
For more info checkout the Animals Out Of Paper page at theatreinchicago.com
At Theater Wit, 1229 W.Belmont, Chicago, IL, cal773-975-8150, www.theatrewit.org, tickets $33, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 1 hour , 40 minutes without intermittent, through February 27, 2016