LEWISTON – Part of being human is that we all inevitably feel the sting of pain and loss at some time in our lives. Like the folds on a piece of origami paper, each occurrence in our lives, good and bad, leaves a mark that shapes who we are. And no matter how hard we try to smooth out the creases, we can never be the blank sheets we started out as.

“Animals Out of Paper” is a touching comedy that explores the ways people cope with these life-altering events.

The play folds together three intertwined characters: Ilana, Andy and Suresh.

Ilana is a renowned origami artist who, as a child, began crafting origami shapes as substitute replicas for beloved items she had lost. But when her husband leaves her and her dog runs away (quite a feat for a 12-year-old, three-legged dog with no ears), she develops “folder’s block.”

Ilana is supposed to be using origami principles to design a crease pattern for a mesh sleeve that will be a non-invasive treatment for congestive heart failure. But as with her own broken heart, she feels paralyzed by uncertainty, unable to foresee the folds that will provide a solution to the problem at hand.

At the start of the play, Ilana has retreated to her apartment, where she has been moping around, eating Chinese takeout for the last two months. She has hit rock bottom when Andy shows up on her doorstep.

He’s a math teacher and president of American Origami. As a child, Andy read a fortune cookie that said, “Count your blessings.” From that day forward, he’s been recording them in a little black book (more than 8,000 by the end of the play) as a way to reconcile the things that happen in his life.

Andy claims he stopped by to drop off some paperwork for American Origami, but actually has a crush on Ilana and is worried about how she’s doing.

He also wants her to consider tutoring his teenage student, Suresh, who is a visionary origami protege. Suresh lost his mother in a hit-and-run accident and now masks his pain with a hip-hop, jive-talking persona.

The Public Theatre’s production of “Animals Out of Paper” marks the New England premiere of Rajiv Joseph’s award-winning off-Broadway play. Caroline Strong, Christopher Gerson and Vandit Bhatt star as Ilana, Andy and Suresh. All three deliver passionate performances that draw the audience into the folds of their character’s lives. Humor meshes seamlessly with personal, existential crisis.

For the production, set designer Michael Reidy has crafted an origami-like set of Ilana’s apartment that cleverly rolls backward to allow sidepieces to unfold into other locations.

“Animals Out of Paper” is a play that we can all identify with in one way or another. Who hasn’t locked themselves away with the proverbial Chinese food container (or ice cream tub) or tried to devise some kind of coping mechanism? These human foibles are comically woven into a heartfelt performance that reminds the audience to look beyond the complicated creases in our lives.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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