nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
April 1, 2011
The walls between us can seem impenetrable even when they are paper thin. The wall that separates Diego and Beatriz in Diana Chery-Ramirez’s sad and sweet new play Paper Airplanes (the play was originally written in Spanish and titled Aviones de Papel) is so thin they can practically hear each other breathe through it, but it is clear from the very beginning that this wall (like the walls they have constructed around their hearts) is bound to be torn down.
Beatriz is a recently divorced architect who has just found a new apartment. She is trying to learn to live with herself but she can’t stand being alone. Her ex-husband still stalks her and she is afraid to answer the phone. Her thoughts also haunt her so she sings loudly in an attempt to drown then out.
Diego is the owner of the apartment. He grew up there and has returned without telling anyone where he’ll be in an attempt to run away from life. He pretends to seek solitude but deep down he is longing for companionship. There is a wall down the middle of the apartment that wasn’t there when he was growing up with his alcoholic father and estranged sister. It now separates him and Beatriz and they try to keep that separation, but fate has a different plan for them.
Chery-Ramirez pens and stars in the play. Her story and dialogue are quite touching and often funny. She mixes some deep, introspective moments with the sweetest moments of a budding friendship. One thing that I really appreciate about her story is that it doesn’t follow a simple progression of the characters’ growing friendship but rather she moves them two steps forward only to have them fall three steps back. And I love the ending; it’s real and unapologetic. There are a few points when I felt maybe something was lost in translation. The script jumps in time here and there and I felt like I missed something. Also the original music, courtesy of Maria Eugenia Atilano, tends to be a little heavy-handed in its leading of the emotions in the moment.
I really loved Aminta De Lara’s direction. She creates a stylized reality that is both grounded and imaginative. She utilizes some creative movement and has the actors freeze in some still pictures of their characters at their lowest points. The stage has few set pieces and no real walls lending the production an openness that is only closed off when the actors create the illusion that they are shut in.
The cast, Chery-Ramirez and Carlos Alberto Valencia, do a fantastic job with their characters. Valencia as Diego is natural and unassuming. He does a great job reaching deep down inside himself to find what troubles this character. Chery-Ramirez brings her charm and vitality to every single one of Beatriz’s lines. She makes Beatriz dimensional and real and she does it very naturally.
Paper Airplanes is a good play because it is not formulaic. It doesn’t follow the pack. It creates its own path and style. It has a very satisfying mix of sweetness and sadness. It is what a good romantic comedy could be if it weren’t made for a Hollywood or Broadway audience. One thing to note: if you want to hear it in the original Spanish you can catch an early showing. Still, this show is well worth a hearing in any language.