‘Animals Out of Paper’: Welcome to the fold

As delicate, graceful and neat as origami is, the artists who obsess about the perfect paper fold sometimes lead very messy lives. We discover this aspect in “Animals Out of Paper,” a quirky drama making its St. Louis debut by R-S Theatrics.

Ilana (Teresa Doggett), a renowned origami artist, is going through a rough patch, after a split from her husband and her beloved dog’s disappearance. Living temporarily in her unkempt studio, her life is turned upside down by the entrance of Andy (Andrew Kuhlman), a cheerful high school math teacher, and Suresh (Ethan Isaac), an art student who needs more tutelage than what he can learn in school.

In a nifty touch, Andy counts his blessings in a notebook. He has written thousands on the pages, from the mundane to the profound. Ilana reads the list, which Andy finds invasive, but understanding his heart and soul sparks a romance. He’s ready, but she is not.

It’s obvious that Ilana has issues she needs to work through, but will she ignore what the universe is trying to tell her? Her professional relationship with Suresh becomes more personal, too.

These three needy people are adrift, but you want them to find peace, love and happiness. Playwright Rajiv Joseph uses humor besides conflict to explore their crossroads and provide interesting insight.

The acting trio works well together, with the young men having stronger character development and the more interesting roles. Kuhlman has a contagious sunniness about him, while Isaac, in a strong St. Louis debut, showcases an impressive range.

Ilana’s arc isn’t as dramatic, and she often is unlikable, but Doggett elicits some sympathy for the self-destructive trainwreck.

Director Todd Schaefer, working in the intimate performance space of The Chapel, switches the audience vantage point by placing the stage where patrons have usually sat. This works well.

Origami may be an unusual topic to launch a character study with, but creative people trying to make art while going through personal drama resonates. Schaefer has the cast deepen the identifiable feelings of trying to belong, shifting relationship dynamics, and navigating painful ordeals.

The play is enhanced through prop master Heather Tucker’s origami and scenic designer Keller Ryan’s detailed, compact set. The urge to sweep up the pile of Chinese takeout boxes and paper ephemera gnawed at me throughout the show, but served to emphasize Ilana’s chaos.

R-S Theatrics always presents works that have never been professionally produced here. “Animals Out of Paper” is a provocative, intriguing journey you should take. You are never sure where it’s going, and that’s part of its appeal.

"Animals Out of Paper"

  • Who: R-S Theatrics
  • When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive
  • Phone: 314-252-8812
  • www.r-stheatrics.com