Paper Song, presented by Young People’s Theatre and produced by Edmonton-based Concrete Theatre, is an endearing continuation of the ancient Japanese myth of the crane wife, chronicling the events that happen after that well-known legend finishes. The myth tells the story of a poor sail-maker who comes upon an injured crane and helps nurse it back to health. At his door the next day is a beautiful woman whom he marries. He learns that she has the ability to make magic sails (as long as he promises not to watch her work), providing a source of income for the sail-maker. He becomes greedy, breaks his promise, and finds out that the woman is the crane, weaving her own feathers into the sail at great cost to her well-being. She flies away, never to be seen again. In Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull’s Paper Song, directed by Caroline Howarth, the sail-maker has succumbed to his greed and become the cruel goblin, Tengu, played by both Sean Baek and Ntara Curry at various points, who travels the world looking for his lost love.
Paper Song follows a mouse named Utako-Chan (Zina Lee), meaning “little song”, a suitable name considering her size and her penchant for breaking out into song throughout the story. Utako-Chan and her grandfather, a mouse named Giichan (Sean Baek), live in a paper village constructed using origami, a central component to the story. Everything from the set to the props and costumes use paper as the primary material, giving credibility to the repeated phrase in the play that “paper can be anything”. When Tengu takes over the village that she lives in and forces all the mice to work for him, Utako-Chan must use the powers of origami that she has learned from her grandfather to stop him.
Baek, Lee, and Curry all take turns narrating the story of Paper Song, crafting a magical tale not only verbally, but visually too. Elaborate paper craft and origami are used as visual aids for the young audience and are accompanied by spoken narration and song. Baek shines in multiple roles, as the elder Giichan, the evil Tengu, and even as the buzzing firefly, Hotaru, another creature (like Utako-Chan and the crane) whose life is disturbed by Tengu’s greed.
The stage design by Cory Sincennes is excellent. A backdrop of paper mountains looms over a paper village, all in uniform white, while a white screen behind the stage is cleverly used for shadow puppetry. However, the moments where the story should shine is where it seems to falter. When the stage darkens and a single paper lantern is held aloft, the young audience holds its breath in awe, but the effect is not as strong as it could be, considering how captivated the children are at this sight. Furthermore, the puppetry scenes and the use of origami is somewhat fumbled and unclear, pulling the audience out of what could be magical moments. These slights are covered well by the enthusiastic cast, all three of whom are successful in bringing the story and the characters to life.
Paper Song runs from April 29th to May 11th at Young People’s Theatre and is recommended for children ages 8 and up. Tickets are $17-22 plus tax. Visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca or call 416.862.2222 for tickets.
Photo by EPIC
Featured in photo: Zina Lee, Ntara Curry