Heading to New York City for Robin Williams’ Broadway debut in Rajiv Joseph’s Pulitzer nominated Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre? Not this week? If you’d like to sample this wunderkind playwright’s work (a 2010 Rockefeller Fellow, winner of Vineyard Theatre’s 2008 Paula Vogel Award for emerging playwrights), jaunt to Fort Worth. See his Animals Out of Paper under the auspices of Fort Worth and New York City based Amphibian Stage Productions, now in its 12th season of producing “innovative and engaging works of theatre that challenge the way we see the world around us”. Mr. Joseph doesn’t shy away from portraying the grisly and unspeakable (in “Bengal Tiger” Uday Hussein’s ghost carries brother Qusay’s head around in a plastic bag, taunting other characters while toying with it). “Animals” doesn’t contain anything quite so revolting, but it does offer an unexpected plot twist near its end guaranteed to raise eyebrows if not actually offend less than open-minded audience members.
Life gets messy, even the well-ordered one of an internationally renowned origamist, protagonist Ilana. She’s holed up almost catatonic in a trashed out apartment, unable to fold a single piece of paper much less create breathtaking origami. Semi-stalker Andy, geeky treasurer of the international origami society, tracks Ilana down and invades her funk, presumably to hand deliver her membership renewal notice. He totes a love-torch, which becomes abundantly clear when he leaves his personal diary at her apartment and she reads it. A high school teacher, Andy has a hostile, non-communicative Indian student who happens to be a rap music inspired origami savant. Suresh becomes Ilana’s protégé: she starts to emerge from her shell; her romance blooms with Andy. And then life gets messy again. Real messy. I felt cheated by the twist. Nothing in any character’s behavior foreshadows it. Still, life can fold, to borrow origami lingo, unexpectedly. The on stage ride up to that point is pure thespian joy, well worth the final brow-furrowed moment.
Crisp acting by the tight-meshed trio of Laurel Whitsett, Marshall York and Andres Ortiz, gets directed into symbiotic synchrony by New York City based Evan Mueller. The design team of Susan Austin (costumes), Sean Joseph Urbantke (set), David Lanza (sound) and Aaron Lentz (lighting) creates a whimsical reality that lets the audience plunge far into each character’s imaginative depths. It’s like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole only to emerge from a grimy manhole on a busy New York City street. “How exactly did I get here from there?”
Animals Out of Paper runs through March 27.
Tickets: 817.923.3012 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hardy and Betty Sanders Theater
Fort Worth Community Arts Center
Curious? Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo opens March 31, 2011. Here’s Charles Isherwood’s 2010 review of LA’s Mark Taper Forum production: