You walk up the creaky steps to McAlphin Hall at West Park Presbyterian Church only to find chandeliers and origami. Not your usual stage business. YOLO! Productions and The Great Griffon are mounting Animals Out of Paper, written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph (of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo fame) and directed by Merri Milwe. In Animals, we meet Ilana (Nairoby Otero), a hostile origamist, unnerved by a series of unfortunate events, including a messy divorce and a runaway three legged dog. Otero masters that disheveled, sleep-till-noon, never-leave-my-robe indolence that tragedy often elicits. We find her sprawled on her couch in her windowless studio, surrounded by Chinese take-out and a paper menagerie.
We suspect she might never leave her couch were it not for the insistent and rain-drenched Andy (David Beck) who buzzes at her door relentlessly. Andy is an origami groupie and a fan of both Ilana and her work. He has hunted her down with all the ferocity of a bunny. He is every eager houseguest who doesn’t get the hint to leave and the kind of guy who counts his blessings in a book. Andy meddles with Ilana’s reclusive existence and introduces her to his student, Suresh (Maneesh Sasikumar), a calculus/origami whiz and hip-hop enthusiast. Romance brews and Ilana becomes a mentor of sorts to young Suresh.
As someone unfamiliar to the concerns and fervor of the folding community, I found Animals both surprising and peculiar. There is an elegance to Joseph’s script, as he weaves restrained symbolism through the piece. Themes of loss, survival, and the unpredictable nature of tragedy ascend in a script about 20 minutes too long. Much of this lag may be due to the timing, which blunders the much needed humor in the play. That said, the actors do wonderful work. Otero is perfect as a woman skirting with the edge of her breaking point. Sasikumar is a jolt of charm and vigor, giving due diligence to urban adolescent prodigies everywhere (a memorable freestyle about milk comes to mind). And Beck is endearing as a man hypnotized with a woman just above his reach. Though a flawed production, Animals appeals to its audience with its earnest look at loss and redemption. As Ilana says, “ So much of what I am, is what I’ve lost.”