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Animals Out of Paper
Fascinating Folding

City Lights Theater Company, San Jose
Review by Jeanie K. Smith

Also see Richard's reviews of 1776 and Buried Child


Janis DeLucia and Damian Vega
City Lights winningly presents the West Coast premiere of this new play by Rajiv Joseph, who was a Pulitzer finalist in 2010 and who is much acclaimed for his award-winning works The North Pool and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. Paper is an earlier work that resonates with Joseph's voice and many of his recurring themes.

The device that drives the play is the world of origami—apparently much more of an art form than most of us realize, and steeped in philosophy and technique enough to generate scholarship, debate, journals, conferences, and yes, celebrities in the field. One such star, 30-something Ilana (Janis DeLucia), has retreated to living in her messy studio after a messy break-up and the departure of her beloved dog, and doesn't answer her phone or mail. Enter Andy (Damian Vega), high school math teacher and origami devotee, who has met Ilana at conferences—although she doesn't remember him.

Through rambling conversation, Andy finally reveals that he hopes Ilana will consider tutoring one of his students, Suresh (Danraj Rajasansi), who has become remote and sullen since the death of his mother and who appears to be a brilliant origamist. Against her better judgment, Ilana agrees, and soon we meet Suresh, a very realistic iPod-toting, rapping, swearing and insolent teen. Then we hear him speak gently to his father on the phone, and know there's more to him than first glance.

Relationships develop by fits and starts, much is learned about folding and about these three sharply-drawn characters. The origami wisdom sounds Yoda-esque—"A piece of paper, once folded, is never the same again; it has a memory."—but rings true, especially in the context of these wounded people trying to remake their lives in spite of indelible creases. The play flounders a bit in the last scene, juggling too many disparate threads as it aims for resolution, but ultimately delivers catharsis and a surprisingly upbeat ending.

All but the last scene are duets, which is clearly Joseph's style, and the three actors are up to the challenge that presents. DeLucia says volumes with understated expression and gesture; Vega is supremely believable as a nerdy math teacher who has to write down his blessings to reassure himself he's alive; and Rajasansi is so attuned to his character it's hard to imagine him otherwise.

Director Karen Altree Piemme keeps the action lively and engaging, and deftly charts the emotional arc of the play. Ron Gasparinetti's set of Ilana's studio is terrific and includes the audience in a fine bit of theatrical sleight of hand in a scene change. I wished for a different choice when it came to the two different locations in act two—the action is too remote, hard to observe and hear. Pat Tyler's properties and costume designs suit beautifully, as does lighting by Nick Kumamoto. George Psarras' pre-show hip-hop is a bit annoying, but then we understand the context for it soon enough; and his original music is lovely.

It is an entertaining and engaging evening, with excellent production values and fine examples of local talent all around. I applaud the efforts of so many first-rate artists. What a sad indictment of our community that the theatre wasn't filled to the gills with appreciative audience at the performance I attended.

Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph, presented at City Lights Theatre Co., 529 South Second St., San Jose, through October 20, 2013. Tickets $16.95 - $29.95 can be purchased online at www.cltc.org or by phone at 408-295-4200.


Photo: Mike Ko


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Jeanie K. Smith



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