Hunter Intro to Theatre

Animals Out Of Paper by Ryan Troeller

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    Ryan Troeller

    Introduction to Theatre

    Performance Reflection: Animals Out of Paper

    For my performance reflection I choose to see Animals Out of Paper, written by Rajiv Joseph and directed by Merri Milwe. I saw the February 28<sup>th</sup> performance, which was the production’s final date.  The play was about an origami expert who takes on an apprentice. The origami expert, Ilana, is asked by Andy, a calculus teacher, to take his student Suresh as her apprentice for his senior project.  Although the stage area was cluttered abundantly with pieces of origami that the program and an announcer right before the show began stated, were made solely for the production, the play itself was not really about origami but more so about the relationships that formed around the play’s three characters.

    When I arrived at the venue, a church on West 86<sup>th</sup> street, I entered though a door on the side. The box office of the event was a folding table and a guy with a list.  I showed him my identification, he put a check next to my name, and I was directed up the stairs to the right of his folding table.  At the top of the stairs I entered the room where the play would be held.  The room would be best described as a hall. It had a very tall ceiling with five chandeliers.  On one half of the room there was the set.  What looked like an apartment with a couch and a desk in the middle of the stage.  Behind that, in the back of the room was a section of the room that looked like it functioned as a kitchen and was in fact used as the kitchen in the set of the play.  The floor of the set was covered with paper, some of it origami, some of it just discarded paper, and some of it boxes from Chinese food delivery.  Throughout the story the characters would clean the apartment, much like they cleaned up the main character, Ilana’s, life.

    The other half of the room featured the seating.  It couldn’t have been more than fifty folding chairs, arranged into four aisles.  The audience moved the chairs around as they saw fit to sit with people they knew and to sit closer to the front.  I found myself moving my seat up to the next row when the chairs surrounding me had all been moved and the row in front of me had developed an open space.  I thought this was fairly unique as most plays I had seen in the past may not have had assigned seats but they never had, in my experience, moveable seats.  The chairs being on the same floor as the stage allowed for a very small separation between the audience and the performance.  I found myself at times having to move my body to see around the two aisles in front of me but mostly the intimate seating allowed me to almost feel like I was in the room with the characters the entire play.

    The entire first act took place in Ilana’s studio, where she was living after her recent separation from her husband.  There were not many scene changes in the first act but they were clearly indicated when all the lights would go out for a moment.  Again I found a uniqueness, whereas most of the other plays I had seen also went to black between scene changes, this production was unique because with the small hall and no exit signs or aisle lights, the room was truly completely pitch black between scenes.  The second act however removed this illusion, leaving some lights on in the stage area between scene changes.  This was probably to accommodate the fact that in the second act they changed the set between scenes to portray a restaurant and then a hotel room before going back to Ilana’s studio.

    Throughout the play you could hear people moving around upstairs.  At first I felt it caused a distraction because the noise was almost constant, as though a room full of children were playing upstairs.  As the play progressed however I felt that it amplified the intimacy enacted by the small venue.  As though we were actually in her studio in Manhattan and her neighbors had children.

    The story was fairly realistic.  Andy approaches Ilana and asks her to take his savant student Suresh as her apprentice. She resists at first because she is clearly anti social.  After Andy shows her some of the origami that Suresh has done however she changes her tune and agrees to teach him some.  In the next scene she had already cleaned her apartment up a little and this theme continues throughout the play.  The closer she allows Andy and Suresh to get, the cleaner her apartment and the more open she is to letting people into her life.  Near the end of the first act Suresh literally cleans her entire studio while she is out with Andy.  She is appalled and yells at him, a clear representation of her unending despite towards change.  The play is also very much about the recent death of Suresh’s mother and his subconscious attachment to Ilana is clearly a substitute for his loss of his mother.  At the end of the play I think Suresh has realized this and it allows him to grow and move on with his life, accepting that his mother is in fact gone.  This does not happen however before Suresh and Ilana share a very brief moment of intimacy that Ilana puts a quick stop to. She has throughout the play got into a relationship with Andy who idolizes her.  He is hurt first when he finds out that she has not been able to fold, create origami, for quite awhile but is outright disgusted when he discovers the truth behind her and Suresh’s kiss.  Suresh, acknowledging that he has to let his mother go, leaves Ilana never to see her again and Andy leaves her studio in outrage, never wanting to see her again.  Through all of this development Ilana is able to realize she too needs to move forward with her life and folds a piece of paper in half, ending the show.

    This extreme realism may have left me feeling as though all of this had actually happened if not for the animation of the actors.  Everything they said was said with an extreme emphasis on their emotion at the time.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the director chose to do this to create an alienation effect for the audience.  Despite the intensely sad subject matter, the lively characters allowed for me and the rest of the audience to laugh throughout almost all of the play.  Even when the characters were screaming in each other’s faces there was usually a chuckle to be had at the expense of the zany character Andy, or at the wit of the overly cynical Ilana.

    Mostly I thought the play was an interesting look at how one must accept their responsibilities, their abilities, and their faults and continue on with their life.  That we are all just a piece of paper that has been folded and changed over time becoming more and more complex with each fold.

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