Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Animals Out of Paper": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ !

Reviewers don't generally get to sit next to the young star's father and mother in the audience on Opening Night. The reviewer knew this gentleman was Aly Mawji's father by the way his smile was crackling for two full acts, as his son received an ovation after his first entrance and, along with the two other cast members, another one after the final curtain.

In San Francisco Playhouse's West Coast premiere of Rajiv Joseph's "Animals Out of Paper," Aly Mawji plays Suresh, a young hip-hopper who just happens to be a genius when it comes to folding origami. Lorri Holt is Ilana, Suresh's mentor and perhaps a bit more, and David Deblinger is Andy, the high school calculus teacher whose heart is not only on his sleeve but written out in his book of blessings.

There is so much here to see, hear, feel, experience and think about afterwards. Perhaps loneliness is most important, and how three people find a common thread to try and deal with their personal isolation. Playwright Joseph has created two characters, Suresh and Ilana, whose tragedies have driven them to anger, while the third, Andy, deflects his pain by writing down everything that has happened to him in his journal. He has done this since he was 12 years old. He calls the entries blessings: we might call them agony.

Andy is the bridge between Ilana and Suresh. When Andy leaves his journal in Ilana's apartment she reads it, to discover the inner torment of a person she had previously written off as a kook. The story takes off from there. The playwright's message is that everyone suffers tragedies. We overcome them by opening ourselves to other people.

Bill English really outdid himself this time with a gorgeous Japanese-inspired set; Steve Schoenbeck's jazzy music with a welcome touch of hip-hop is perfectly timed with the action and Amy Glazer's direction is flawless, full of humor and angst, in perfect proportion like a good martini.

But it's all on the page. This is really a good play.

The ovation at the end continued a long time. When the lights came on, Aly Mawji's father whispered to this reviewer: "That's my boy." He's going to have to share his son with a lot of people from now on.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ !

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Animals Out of Paper" Four Stars with an exclamation point. Holt, Deblinger and Mawji earn one star each and the perfect script plus spot-on direction earn the fourth. A special kudos must be mentioned about the origami itself -- pause on the stage when the show is over and look at some of these amazing sculptures, folded from pieces of colored paper. A small army of real life origamists created them for the show.

One more special note: when Ilana has read Andy's journal of blessings, in which he has bared his heart, he complains that she now knows him far too well.

"It's weird not to be able to lie to someone, even a little bit."

"Then don't," Ilana answers.

Good answer. There is a lot of honest truth in this show.

"Animals Out of Paper"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through Feb. 27

1 comment:

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