It is certainly important to count your blessings. And it would be lovely to even write some of those down. Even if you find yourself writing down 7,904 of them.
Well that’s what Andy does. Andy is a high school teacher, one whose nobility is surpassed only by his passion for complex polyhedra origami. He talks to people as if he’s reading kindergarteners a story, and is truly fascinated by anything that life has to offer.
In City Lights Theater Company’s splendid production of Rajiv Joseph’s “Animals out of Paper,” we meet a trio of interesting folks brought together by the Japanese paper-folding art form. There is the aforementioned Andy (Damian Vega), his gifted yet troubled student Suresh (Danraj Rajasansi) and the enigmatic Ilana (Janis DeLucia), a master of the fold and a tortured soul herself, with divorce proceedings and a runaway dog hanging over her head.
Right now, Andy’s fascination is focused squarely on Ilana, whom he has met multiple times. She does not have the same recollection. She lives on heapings of Chinese food, with empty boxes strewn throughout the apartment, mixed in with dottings of her craft.
Andy’s interest not only lies in his fascination and desire with the aura of Ilana. He is looking for a mentor for Suresh, a brilliant Ivy League potential student who has been checking out of Andy’s calculus club because of deep, personal issues. Suresh also has shown amazing precociousness in folding, piquing Ilana’s interest in working with him.
Joseph’s piece reminds me of two amazing films – “Good Will Hunting,” featuring the plight of an angry, genius urban young man, and “Sideways,” which looked at the prism of life through grapes. Only here, Suresh is more of a wannabe than Will was, and conversations of life are metaphoric through paper.
Suresh speaks as if he was raised on the streets, drops “dogs” and “yo’s” in all the right places, yet all pretenses falls in tender moments when he converses with his sibling about his father’s meals. Snark and edge was quickly replaced with warmth and concern.
Joseph’s script is interpreted with even, sure-handed direction from Karen Altree Piemme, a wonderful dramaturg from San Jose Repertory Theatre. Piemme’s staging and witty transitioning on Ron Gasparinetti’s sharp set were certainly highlights. A most interesting soundscape from sound designer George Psarras did wonders to create Suresh’s point-of-view through his isolating earbuds.
Joseph’s script clearly gives the actors great depth to work with, and while most intentions are there for all to see, the fact that mystery and motivations are not always clear works very well.
DeLucia does well to drive the piece home, considering the fact that her presence is the dominant one in most scenes. Her interpretation was also smart to find humor within, because the play does have some very good laughs.
Rajasansi (disclosure – a former high school student of mine) is also well cast in the role, showing a sharp range with some solid hip-hop flowing abilities.
Vega is certainly maddeningly likable in his earnest portrayal of Andy. He is also completely empathetic, a great guy who certainly deserves better.
While the structure of the play slows down in act two, the final scene is strong, where strange and awkward arguments ensue. This is where the listening and connection at break-neck speed must happen. Each aspect of tension, from Andy’s reckoning, to Suresh’s devastation to Ilana’s artistry is handled with precision, the best collective moment for the ensemble cast.
To say the play is a love letter to paper is certainly a simplistic view. Each fold of a paper creates a memory that doesn’t leave, even if there is an attempt to remove the crease. Some of those memories hurt, or, as Ilana puts it, “leaves scars.” Yet sometimes, in order to continue living, we just need to keep folding.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
City Lights Theater Company presents “Animals Out of Paper”
Written by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Karen Altree Piemme
Featuring Janis DeLucia, Damian Vega and Danraj Rajasansi
The Word: A lovely metaphoric vision of the world through the art of origami
Stars: 3.5 out of 4
City Lights Theatre
529 S. Second St., San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $10 – $39.95
For tickets, call (408) 295-4200 or visit www.cltc.org