Review: paper SERIES (Cahoots Theatre Company)

By Wayne Leung

Toronto’s Cahoots Theatre Company presents the world première of paper SERIES by Governor General’s Literary Award nominee David Yee at the Tank House Theatre, Young Centre for the Performing Arts through April 9, 2011.

paper SERIES by David Yee, is a cycle of six short plays which are unrelated except for the fact that they share a central theme. The plays are packaged together in an intermission-less 90-minute production; it’s the theatrical equivalent of an anthology of short stories.

Part of Cahoots Theatre’s mandate is to “investigate the complexities of Canada’s cultural diversity and examine the intersection of these cultures.” Rarely does a show explore diversity as organically as paper SERIES. The production’s diversity comes not only from the backgrounds of its cast members but also in the rich mosaic of stories the show explores.

Paper is the main thematic element linking the plays together. Throughout the course of the show the stage becomes increasingly littered with paper. Camellia Koo’s set and costume designs feature an almost entirely white palette to visually suggest a blank page.

The narrative thread of all six plays relies on the blank sheet of paper and the possibilities it represents. The blank page gives the characters the power to forge their own destinies. The stories run the gamut from laugh-out-loud funny to profound, from tense and action-packed to heartbreaking.

The first story is a fast-paced drama. Marjorie Chan plays the daughter of a counterfeiter. She takes up the family business after the death of her father. The story darts from location to location and is filled with intrigue and gangland violence.

My show-going companion for the evening Megan told me she was a little bit uncertain about the show opening with such a frenetic, over-the-top story. I agree that it was the least relatable of the stories and it didn’t draw me in the way the later stories did.

The next story features Rosa Labord as Hope, a woman struggling to write a “Dear John” letter before leaving her sleeping lover. Her comedic timing is impeccable as she reads through successive iterations of the letter. Her delivery had the audience in stitches throughout the monologue.

Rebecca Appelbaum channels a young, orphaned, mixed-race child who uses her childhood imagination to bring her Scottish father and Chinese mother to life in the form of paper puppets. It’s a cute vignette that’s full of charm and humour.

Byron Abalos gives a heart-rending performance as a man who, in the course of breaking up with his girlfriend, uses an origami crane as a metaphor for their entire relationship.

Nicco Lorenzo Garcia leads a madcap group of characters in a Chinese restaurant as a waiter who gleans information by eavesdropping on his customers and then writes them prophetic fortunes. Mayhem ensues.

Both Megan and I felt that Kawa Ada gave the most outstanding performance of the evening as Isaac, a cab driver who recounts a story to a fare about how he used to practice medicine in India but now drives a cab in Toronto.

Ada deftly portrays a huge variety of characters throughout the segment by using subtle changes in posture, facial expression and vocal intonation to convincingly bring each character to life.

I also felt that the writing was the strongest in this last segment. Ada infuses his character with such humanity as he navigates through his story of loss, bitter irony and redemption.

Director Nina Lee Aquino paces the individual segments well; her staging is appropriately grand for the play’s occasional action sequences and pseudo-Bollywood dance numbers and then tightly focused for the more intimate moments.

The pace and tone of the show vary wildly from one vignette to the next and sometimes the abrupt changes between the segments are a little bit jarring since the audience needs time to re-focus and accept the premise of a new scenario. However, as the evening wore on I found that I got used to these rapid-fire changes and was able to adjust fairly quickly.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. The cast has a great energy, the plays are short and punchy but they’re also funny, pithy and often profound. paper SERIES makes for a compelling evening of theatre.

Details:

  • Starring Byron Abalos, Kawa Ada, Rebecca Applebaum, Marjorie Chan, Nicco Lorenzo Garcia and Rosa Laborde
  • Set and Costume Design by Camellia Koo
  • Lighting Design by Michelle Ramsey
  • Sound Design by Richard Lee

Photo credit:

– Marjorie Chan, Kawa Ada – Photo by Richard Lee

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