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Review: 'Animals out of Paper'

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3.5 stars

Spotlight Players, Dreyling Stage; directed by Mac Bellner. Rising playwright Rajiv Joseph (current Pulitzer Prize nominee for "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" has been lauded for his “liberated stage vocabulary,” but his Animals out of Paper would translate easily to film.

The story of a young origami prodigy (strong performance from college actor Nick Heskett) and his mentor (Kristi Wilkinson Gross) is fairly traditional in terms of plot, dialogue, form and structure. Two huge and hugely troubled intellects come together, clash and ultimately add to each other’s lives.

What makes the play worthwhile is actually the quirky math teacher who brings the professional paper folder and white teen rapper together. With lovable literalness, Andrew (the enjoyable James Gross) has been counting his blessings since the age of 12, logging thousands of small life events in his pocket diary, often turning misfortunes (broken elbows, lost girlfriends) into good fortune.

His inner timing is delightfully out of sync with the rest of the world, whether he’s ringing a doorbell or courting a woman. Unlike the paper-folding geniuses who follow intricate steps and inspired improvisations to create complicated paper animals and boxes, Andrew hasn’t a clue as to what will happen next. There is just enough pointed humor in Animals and dark ambivalence about the way it ends — who helped who and who hurt who — to make me seek out Rajiv Joseph again, as well as the Beech Grove community theater that introduced us. Through Feb. 6

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