Tag: Adam Poss
Taking into account the nearly 700 productions that we reviewed in 2012, here are our picks for the best of the best. Bravo!! (FYI: We’re honored to have the national website Huffington Post use our choices for their Top 10 Chicago productions here)
Will You Stand Up?
Adapted by Brenda Barrie, Pat Curtis, Brighid O’Shaughnessy and Craig Thompson
Praise for what unfolds
|Steppenwolf Theatre presents|
|Animals Out of Paper|
|Written by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Jaclynn Jutting
at Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted (map)
through June 19 | tickets: $20 | more info
Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins
It sounds cliché to say that a play is both funny and bittersweet. The thing is, rarely have I found a play to fulfill that description. Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph presents a truly human story and plays out the truth that big revelations come in small ways.
In the opening scene we have Ilana who is living in a rat’s nest apartment. As Ilana, Amy J. Carle is luminescent in her grief and anger. The shadows of depression are all around her in dirty Chinese takeout boxes and half eaten pizza on paper plates. Ilana is a world famous Origami artist and her life is consumed by paper. There are hanging mobiles of cranes and most prominently a gorgeous hawk over the sofa.
Ilana is sitting at rock bottom eating out of a dog dish with chopsticks. Ms. Carle plays the character as frightened and mistrustful verging on the paranoid. Her door buzzes and she looks at the buzzer intently. It’s a nice touch that she has taken the buzzer off of the wall and it sits on top of a stack of paper. She finally tentatively answers the intercom and there begins a very funny exchange between Ilana and Andy (Derek Hasenstab). Andy is from am origami association and wants to deliver an award to Ilana. It’s pouring rain outside and Andy persists until Ilana relents and buzzes him up. Their first face-to-face exchange is reminiscent of the Nichols and May work "Not Enough Rope" where a suicidal woman asks her neighbor for enough rope to hang herself.
Andy is a calculus teacher and origami enthusiast who is thunderstruck to be in Ilana’s presence. Hasenstab is heartbreakingly brilliant in this performance. His character’s energy bounces off of him like sparks in Ilana’s presence. In fact, those sparks are dangerous in Ilana’s world built of paper and combustible grief. Andy keeps at her, determined to stay in her presence, and events are slowly revealed that point to the reasons Ilana has made her retreat from the world and her art.
She and her husband divorced because somehow he let the three-legged and toothless dog run away. The dog had rescued them from a fire in the cottage they shared by literally gnawing at the door until is teeth came out and his gums were filled with splinters. It sounds over the top, but in Amy Carles’ skilled hands it makes you want to cry. Andy reveals that he literally counts his blessings and keeps them in a tattered notebook in his back pocket (another moment for tears welling up in one’s eyes). Andy’s account brings the realization that we are trained to look for huge revelations, all the while missing the beautiful little miracles that make up a life well lived.
Andy convinces Ilana to mentor one of his most brilliant calculus students who also has a gift for origami. Ilana relents and we are introduced to Suresh, a teenager hiding his true self behind a cool hip hop veneer. He drops the act when dealing with his family who depend on him for everything (his family literally cannot seem to thaw out a meal unless they call Suresh on the phone). As Suresh, Adam Poss is a brilliant chameleon of emotions and unexpected tenderness as he seeks an escape from his grief and approval from Ilana.
Their first exchange is both tense and hilarious. Ilana doesn’t speak hip hop nor does she understand the rebellion and anger that Suresh feels because she has been wrapped up in a cocoon of her own disastrous choices. Suresh tears away at that cocoon. He challenges, frightens, teaches, and of course falls for Ilana because she doesn’t leave him.
The love story that develops between Ilana and Andy could easily have been a predictable “they all lived happily with Suresh as their adopted protégé/son”. Instead, Rajiv Joseph‘s writing is really extraordinary, as he digs under the surface of each character and develops complicated layers and internal conflicts. It’s refreshingly different from the American-styled melodramas of love triangles gone awry. Ilana and Andy really do feel love and trust for one another and Ms. Carle does a wonderful job of transforming her emotional character. The shadows literally lift because she embodies the whole character.
When Ilana invites Suresh instead of Andy to an origami conference in Nagasaki the energy shifts a bit. Andy is disappointed but encouraging of his student Suresh. Once again Derek Hasenstab projects such an open heart and love for both of them. Andy has an innocent quality that remains unsullied, even counting his breakup with his only other girlfriend as a blessing. It’s not a pollyanna stance. It is trust and believing that he is witnessing a miracle in his life for him, Ilana, and Suresh.
Ilana comes to depend on Suresh more and he calls her out on her inability to fold. She has been granted a project to create a model sleeve for a human heart by a cardiology association. Suresh mocks her origami heart and then brings her a perfect model. The dynamic between Carle and Poss is tense and it feels appropriately wrong as they grow closer. Ilana is falling for his genius and ability. Suresh is falling for her. When they arrive in Nagasaki, a change comes over Suresh. He is spellbound by the death and destruction that occurred in WWII but unaffected by an old man weeping at the beauty and skill of his origami.
The climax of the play is quietly explosive. That is an oxymoron, but a lot of the conflicts become internalized in Animals Out of Paper. They seethe below the surface, the characters become as if they were made out of paper. They are delicate yet complex, folding in unexpected ways, and quite combustible.
This is one of the best shows that I have seen this year. Next Up shows sometimes go on to become mainstage shows at Steppenwolf. This is definitely one that is deserving. The actors are brilliant. The direction by Jaclynn Jutting is smooth and brilliantly paced.
Animals Out of Paper is part of Steppenwolf’s Next Up series – three plays done in repertory in the Garage next door to the main theater, highlighting students from Northwestern University’s MFA Program. The shows run through June 19th and include Why We’re Born by Lucy Thurber and Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks. For additional information visit www.steppenwolf.org.