Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through July 15, 2012
by Robbin M. Joyce
Chester Theatre Company is a gem tucked into the foothills of the Berkshires. Its reputation for producing top-notch productions continues with this 23rd season, "Uncommon Love Stories." May Andrales directs the first of four shows on this theme of love: “Animals Out of Paper” by Rajiv Joseph.
The show opens on Ilana's apartment. She is a world-renowned Origami Artist and the set, designed by Vicki R. Davis and lit by Lara Dubin, is in utter disarray; it is strewn with paper, drawings, take-out boxes and origami animals, including a five-foot wide hawk composite hanging from the ceiling. Ilana, played by Elizabeth Rich, is clearly folding in upon herself while trying to deal with her failed marriage and the loss of her dog. When Andy, played by Chad Hoeppner, shows up uninvited and asks her to take on one of his troubled students as an origami apprentice, she has to decide whether to stay crumpled up or introduce a whole new set of folds and pleats into her life.
This play draws the audience in during Act I. It's full of raw emotion and vulnerability that feels real and spontaneous. The dialog among the three characters is witty, fresh and funny. Rich embodies the frustrations of her character with ease. Hoeppner is adorable as the nerdy, besotted love interest. Vandit Bhatt, as Suresh, is delightful as a mouthy teenage prodigy trying to sort out his emotions after a life-altering tragedy.
In Act II, however, the tone turns serious. Although some of the action becomes very static, the actors are still a joy to watch. They take the raw emotion and vulnerability seen earlier and transform it into heartbreaking tension. Rich lithely transforms her character from eremite to mentor with a compassion that, unfortunately, is misinterpreted. Hoeppner's wrenching portrayal of an irreparably harmed suitor is a stark contrast to his earlier sunny self. Bhatt's teenage angst is genuine and serves as a reminder of the need for hope, however tenuous it may be.
Peppered with hip-hop music, at the hand of Sound Designer Tom Shread, this sprightly comedy is the perfect start to the summer theater scene.