In Paper Cranes, by Kari Bentley-Quinn, a psychological story about human connection and communication unfolds. It’s a play about sex. But as in real life… it’s never really just about sex.
Bentley-Quinn wraps the plot around the invisible, intangible memories and ideas that both haunt and create who we are. She confronts what people need and want from each other in the universal search for love.
Mona (Cynthia Silver), a single mother, attends group therapy to overcome the death of her husband. At home, she cloisters herself in a room, folding paper cranes, inspired by the story of a young girl, Sadako, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima, but became ill from the radiation. Following a belief that folding 1,000 paper cranes could result in a wish coming true, Sadako folded 644 paper cranes before dying of leukemia. The art of origami, the step-by-step routine of folding paper, with order, neatness and crisp creases, offers Mona hope, with the comfort of clear instructions.
She also keeps, folded in a neat, little, sealed envelope, the letter that her husband wrote to her before he died.
Mona lives with her 19-year-old daughter, Maddie (Sarah Lord), a young woman trying to figure out what to do with her life. Julie (Melissa Hammans), who is 34, meets Maddie at a bar and the two become romantically involved. Later, Maddie tells Julie that she sometimes finds being gay complicates life. “Straight people come with instructions. Slot A fits into slot B. Marry. Procreate.”
Yet the instructions for Julie’s best friend, Amy (Susan Louise O’Connor), come with their own complications. Amy meets David (Eric T. Miller) on the Internet. The two of them start a violent, sexual relationship, following their own rules—instructions that include, “You are not to speak. You are not to cry out unless you absolutely have to…”.
The synapses of psychological pain come full circle. Outside the bedroom, in grieving the death of his girlfriend, through group counseling, David forms a close friendship with Mona.
“Paper Cranes” guides its audience across sexual orientation lines, with a natural ease. The characters express common emotions of anyone injured by love, as the human heart beats, oblivious to sexual orientation, age or age differences:
“I’m just such a moron. I have all these silly romantic obsessions and they always turn out to be completely stupid.”
“We all need things. But you can get what you need without all of this insanity. Someone who’s going to love you.”
“I suggest going and finding your pretty young girlfriend before she tells you to f-off and finds someone else.”
Paper Cranes spells out the difficulties of communicating with people we love or with whom we share a relationship. It provides an honest perspective on desires and expectations, when people choose to communicate about or with sex.
As sex usually involves an emotional and physical component, it can create the psychological state of feeling haunted by something very real but no longer physically tangible, common to the state of grief. David describes his relationship with Amy as “just sex”. With Amy, he tries to bury his sorrows, as all he can see is his dead girlfriend. Physically present with Amy, he is emotionally elsewhere. With Mona, her husband is emotionally overwhelmingly present, but physically gone. In contrast, Maddie yells at her mother: “I try to talk to you! But all you do is sit in that stupid room and drink wine and fold your stupid birds!”
With an emotionally charged stage, crowded with characters, physically there or in the characters’ minds, Bentley-Quinn’s script zeroes in on overcoming loneliness, on love, on sex, on grappling with inner insecurities. Those are not themes, hiding behind separate storylines. Bentley-Quinn makes a brave choice. When directly written about, these subjects can invite clichés and gratuitous sexuality, however, with natural dialogue, sprinkled with well-timed, understated humor, the solid cast effortlessly propels the storyline forward. (Amy rummages through David’s drawers finding a picture of the girlfriend who died, and confesses to Julie: “I know. Not my proudest moment, not by a long shot.”).
The tight script holds the audience’s interest but the romantic depth between Julie and Maddie poses some challenges. Director Scott Ebersold is tasked with maintaining the delicate balance in pacing for action and realistic feel, while juggling subject matters tricky to present on a live stage. An intelligent production, it successfully leaves the audience thinking how sex is an expression of something else.
Paper Cranes written by Kari-Bentley Quinn. Directed by Scott Ebersold. Presented by Packawallop Productions at the Access Theater (380 Broadway, 4th Floor). April 17 - May 8, 2011. For tickets, call (212) 352.3101 or visit www.packawallop.org or www.broadwaybox.com.