Origami hawk by Robert Land, photo by Corrie Bennett

ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER by By Rajiv Joseph. Directed by Amy Glazer. The SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street (one block off Union Square, b/n Powell & Mason), San Francisco. 415-677-9596, or January 23rd through February 27, 2010.


SFPlayhouse has a well deserved reputation for mounting eclectic, often far-out and most often stimulating plays usually avoided by other Bay Area theatres. This time they have done it again with “Animals Out of Paper” an improbable three character play combining the artistic beauty of origami with theatrical savvy. For this show, they have imported David Deblinger, co-founder of the LAByrinth Theather Company from New York and Aly Mawji from LA to share the stage with our own Lorri Holt a multitalented local actor. It is a brilliant casting choice and their acting/interaction is perfect, bringing the on-stage characters to life creating a fascinating, attention grabbing and thoughtful evening.

What can one expect from the up-and coming author Rajiv Joseph who created an insecure high school math teacher Andy (David Deblinger), an international respected origamist Ilana (Lorri Holt) and a brilliant teenaged Indian student Suresh (Aly Mawji) with an innate skill in the art of “folding paper?” To refer to the art of origami as simply “folding paper” seems sacrilegious but there is frequent use of that term throughout the play. Each character conveys a different aspect of human compulsion, initially binding them into semi-cohesive relationship similar to the construction of an origami animal. Like an origami creation, once the paper is folded it can never return to its original shape.

Traumatically almost divorced Ilana lives in a windowless studio (another great set by Bill English with multiple origami animals hung from the ceiling), has become a recluse after her 3-legged dog has run away. She has written a successful book on origami that is greatly admired by insecure Andy whose compulsion is to keep a daily diary of his “blessings.” Those “blessings” are intimate written documentation of his delusional take on life and yet is beautiful in its simplicity. Through a bit of poetic license Rajiv Joseph brings Andy into Ilana’s domain (cocoon) encouraging her to tutor Suresh as her protégé. End of scene one.

Suresh now invades Ilana’s space with his dominating personality denigrating her method of artistic creativity. He creates his origami to the rhythms of Hip-Hop music, (cleverly intertwined as a motif into the play by Steve Schoenbeck’s sound design) labeling her personality as typical of a fugue. Whether Joseph is aware or not of the psychiatric implications of the diagnosis “fugue state”, (a condition usually resulting from severe mental stress that may persist for as long as several months), it is an appropriate description of Ilana’s mind set. Suresh’s obsessive compulsion for physical order compounds the tension with Ilana shouting “I need disorder!”. Kimberly Richards beautifully choreographs the semi-explosive confrontation between the two and is an adjunct to Amy Glazer’s top-notch direction.

Bill English’s visual concept of a windowless, claustrophobic all white set perfectly matches the pent-up emotions of the three diverse characters whose lives are irrevocably changed by their intricate folding into a theatrical origami gem that unfolds with a dynamic uncertainty. With all the characters and plot line in place, we are treated (almost subjected) to a standout evening not to be missed.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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