Creases, lines and scars make for a textured evening with Shattered Globe.
In this 2008 play from Rajiv Joseph (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Gruesome Playground Injuries),big ideas clash with big feelings in an art form typically known for precision. The play, currently in production by Shattered Globe Theatre under the direction of Devon de Mayo, is an ambitious piece, but it ultimately feels a bit flat.
Animals Out of Paper opens on Ilana (Cortney McKenna), a renowned if emotionally crumpled origami artist, who is intruded upon in her studio by a very wet (and very earnest) high school calculus teacher named Andy (Joseph Wiens). Andy beseeches Ilana to take an apprentice: his student, Suresh (Awate Serequeberhan), a young origami prodigy. Ilana eventually relents, and from there, the play unfolds in a series of examinations of coping with loss and counting one’s blessings.
Look: Some playwrights are Big Idea playwrights. Joseph is one of those. His brain is a beautiful, messy sandbox and in Animals, he brings us origami not only as a metaphor for the human condition, but also as a visually striking theatrical experience. It’s effective, but he doesn’t stick the landing. The play’s scenes are exposition-heavy and the narrative lurches and halts in odd places.
But even with an imperfect play, De Mayo’s direction is clearly focused and brings out grounded and emotional performances. A standout is Serequeberhan’s Suresh: a raw nerve of 18-year-old angst, giving freestyle braggadocio one minute and dissolving into a terrified tailspin the next. The set and props for Shattered Globe's production include mind-blowing origami forms by local artist Christine Edison, which add a layer of richness that might not otherwise be present.
Ultimately, a play drawing so heavily on origami as a theme requires balance between the beauty of its ideas and the structure of its approach. This production nails the former, but the latter needs a few more folds.
Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit. By Rajiv Joseph. Directed by Devon de Mayo. With Awate Serequeberhan, Cortney McKenna, Joseph Wiens. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission.