A Stamp of Approval for paper SERIES
Rebecca Applebaum’s troubled young fosterling has the story of her birth parents told to her through paper dolls in one of the six short playlets comprising David Yee’s paper SERIES. Detail of a photo by Richard Lee.
We may be increasingly a paperless society (we’re writing this review in an online publication, after all), but paper is still an important part of our lives—whether it be a bill of currency, an official document, a handwritten note, or a work of art. With this reflection as a jumping off point, playwright David Yee has written six short playlets—PAPER burns, PAPER cuts, PAPER dolls, PAPER tears, PAPER folds, and PAPER routes—that, while seemingly unconnected, together map out how paper connects us to the people in our lives, anchors our sense of identity and self worth, and can mean the difference between life and death (in one instance, even speaking beyond the grave).
The final play in Cahoots Theatre Co.’s current season, paper SERIES is a showcase for everything that Cahoots aims for in its theatre productions: a wide diversity of stories, told by a diverse group of actors. In the best possible example of colour blind casting, none of the talented performers is used as a “stand-in” representative of their own particular ethnicity; Scottish, Russian, Japanese, and other accents not native to the performers crop up in the myriad characters played by the ensemble. In perhaps the most affecting story of the night, actor Kawa Ada, who was born in Afghanistan, plays a series of Indian immigrants to Canada (more on his playlet later). The diversity comes as much from the cast’s stage experience and performance backgrounds as their ethnic makeup.
From left to right, Rosa Laborde, Marjorie Chan, Nicco Lorenzo Garcia, Byron Abalos, and Kawa Ada in a scene from paper SERIES. Detail of a photo by Richard Lee.
One nice aspect of the evening’s format, skillfully created by Cahoot’s Artistic Director Nina Lee Aquino, is that if a particular playlet isn’t hitting home for you, it’ll be fifteen minutes or less before you’re on to the next. We found something to like in all six, and even in the interstitial touches, like adding a paper cut-out to a vintage on-stage record player (which plays six different variations of the same theme) to represent the next scene.
That said, we did have some favourites. In the funniest playlet of the evening, Nicco Lorenzo Garcia, playing a Chinese restaurant server, describes how the staff begin to counterfeit fortune slips, leading to an absurd confrontation over the contents of a cookie. Rebecca Applebaum’s itinerant orphan, labeled a “mutt” by her cruel foster sisters (for the mixed heritage she inherited from her tragically deceased parents), tugs at the heartstrings. And Ada’s downtrodden immigrants, who end up as taxi drivers to make ends meet (despite extensive education in their country of origin), end up as unlikely heroes in a scene that will make you think twice next time you slip into the back seat of a cab.
But it’s the strong supporting ensemble work that enables the talented performers to each take a turn at centre stage recounting their main character’s paper-related tale. Aside from a stack of paper on a table and a few chairs, there’s little in the way of a set; the actors, aided by shrewd staging and lighting, are instrumental in bringing each scene to life.
As for playwright Yee, whose previous play lady in the red dress earned a nomination for a Governor General’s award last year, this is another strong demonstration of his own varied talents, both comedic and dramatic. By the end of the show, when the stack of paper on the table has been mostly strewn across the stage (not to worry, most will be recycled), we’ve seen as diverse a selection of his skills as a writer as one could hope for in an hour and a half of quality theatre. Its effectiveness as a showcase for the cast and for the company as well is as welcome as finding a few forgotten twenties bundled together in a pants pocket.
paper SERIES runs to April 9 at the Young Centre’s Tank House Theatre (55 Mill Street, Building 49), at 8 p.m. (and 2 p.m. on Saturday), $10–$30.