Steppenwolf Theatre presents
ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
A teacher stumbles on a naturally gifted student. When he tries to recruit an expert to mentor the whiz kid, he discovers his idol living in squalor. How will a washed-up legend apprentice a promising protégée? It’s ‘Million Dollar Baby’ meets ‘Karate Kid’ ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer’ all paper macheted together. The twisted crease is this time the sport is origami. Steppenwolf Theatre, in collaboration with Northwestern University MFA’s programs, presents NEXT UP. The theatrical project showcases direction and design of NU graduates performed by professional actors. ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER is one of three plays in repertory.
Ilana is a professional origamist. She’s doesn’t just look good on paper. She has authored a book, done the lecture circuit and developed medical research prototypes. When her dog disappears and her marriage crumbles, Ilana holes up in her rotting studio. Andy worships Ilana! He notices that she failed to pay her dues to the American Origami Society and makes a house call. An optimistic oddity, Andy counts his blessings. Literally, he has written down 7,904 blessings since the age of thirteen. He coaxes Ilana out of her misery and into sharing her life. Suresh is a rapping, wise-cracking, insightful genius. The accidental death of his mother has him torn up. As the threesome fold into each others’ lives unexpectedly, they morph into something new. ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER takes shape with comedy and charm.
Playwright Rajiv Joseph has penned some doublespeak. He hooks the audience with a satirical first act. The introduction to the unknown complexity of the origami community is lampoon hysterical. But then there is a tone shift and the second act transforms into drama. Joseph gets serious with a lesson to be learned. There is still clever wit but the premise un-spoofs and turns formulaic. Even with the genre change, Joseph’s dialogue throughout the play has an organic spontaneity to it. Under the direction of Jaclynn Jutting, the banter is actualized with character distinction and authentic comedic timing. Amy J. Carle (Ilana) grounds her character in exasperation and vulnerability. Carle keeps it real and hilarious with blunt negativity. Later, Carle’s regretful confusion is heartbreaking. Derek Hasenstab (Andy) contrasts Carle perfectly. Hasenstab endears as a goofy stalker-type. His quirky enthusiasm is genuine and funny. Adam Poss (Suresh) brings a youthful impulsivity. Poss energetically attacks and raps with bona-fide teenage angst. The trio unites and divides during multiple paper-rock-scissor encounters.
Sound designer Andre Pluess uses rap music for scene transitions. The musical choice emphasizes the similarity between rap and origami and the difference between youth and adult. Scenic designer Emily Tarleton trashes the stage with discarded take-out containers. Tarleton creates the mess with boxes of clutter among the paper sculptures. It’s a fun illusion of what is art and what is garbage? Later, Tarleton effectively transitions from America to Japan by pulling back curtains exposing wooden screens with rice paper. Dangling from the ceiling, playful mobiles of origamic creatures keeps the focus on the craft.
Despite the Saturday-Night-Live-skit-turned-Lifetime-movie, ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER is paper-covered entertainment. It is sheets and sheets of unique comedy with some recycled drama folded in.
Running Time: Two hours includes an intermission
At Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted
Written by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Jaclynn Jutting
Thursday, June 16th at 8pm
Sunday, June 19th at 8pm
Production photography courtesy of Michael Brosilow