Theatre Review: Paper Song
by David Fujino
by Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull
@YPT (Young Peoples’ Theatre)
April 29 to May 11/14
The heartening play, Paper Song, and its gorgeous origami set, was on full display at Toronto’s Young Peoples’ Theatre when I visited on April 29th.
Paper Song is the product of two stories brought together — a traditional Japanese folk tale about a crane, and the playwright’s story about a mouse and her grandfather who are both artisan paper makers.
In the first story, a poor sail maker, Osamu, nurses a sick crane back to health, and many months later, when an enigmatic woman, Tsuru, shows up on his doorstep, he eventually marries her. She weaves silk sails and makes Osamu promise to keep her secret and never divulge what she does. The greedy Osamu squanders the money she makes and keeps asking for more sails, but the day he discovers that she is the crane and has been using her own feathers, she disappears.
When Tsuru enters into the second tale about the mouse community and helps the mice sail away from the tyrannical despot, Tengu, she fades into the background as the trials and tribulations of the two mice, Otaku-chan (Zina Lee) and Gii-chan (Sean Baek), dominate the second section of the play.
But despite the bounding energy of Zina Lee and Sean Baek’s solid work as Gii-chan, the dramatic tension dissipated at times, and the attention of the young audience noticeably wandered.
For myself, with each new visual sequence in the play — whether it was the white paper snowflakes falling and carpeting the sad interned mouse village, or the later hordes of white mice parachuting down from the sky as if it was V-Day! — the narrative line was largely maintained, and the entire audience eventually found itself swept along with rousing cheers into the victorious fight of the mice over their goblin-like oppressor, Tengu. The audience loved it!
In fact, enough can’t be said about the overall visual strength of the staging and the set production, especially the large and small-scale origami and shadow puppets of Cory Sincennes and the back projections of Kim Clegg that helped keep much of the story exciting and focused.
The three actors were tasked with playing a number of roles, both singing and acting, while Zina Lee’s singing in the key role of Utako-chan (Little Song) deserves mention because it could have been stronger and steadier in intonation, but this could be attributed to Preview day jitters. To the constant delight of the audience, Ntara Curry and Sean Baek were alternately scary as the robed and ogre-ish tengu with the towering white headdress. For his part, Baek was able to show some acting range in his playing of the three characters Gii-chan, Tengu, and the paper hornet, Hotaru. As the Narrator in the first story, Curry also served to bridge the two stories as Tsuru. All three actors had fun.
The play’s achievement, and clear lesson, was that through cooperation, love, and creativity, a despairing community can conquer its enemy and live to see — at the play’s crowning moment — the dawning of a fresh and brave new world — a world of transformation.
In this play of ongoing transformations, it certainly made sense when the actors sang, “Paper can be anything, delicate or strong,” and it doubly made sense that Paper Song from Concrete Theatre of Edmonton was presented as a season finale at Young People’s Theatre.