At the conclusion of Yael Rasooly‘s one woman “paper and object theater” performance, Paper Cut, the small stage at CSV Kabayitos is littered with piles of crumpled, shorn and torn paper props. This destruction is testament to the intensive, energetic and exhaustive show the actress has just presented in the past fifty minutes. It moves at a cracking pace as Rasooly acts, sings, animates, and shreds her way through a romance, set some time in the 1940s, about a solitary, put-upon secretary, who keeps one foot firmly in an escapist dreamworld. Well, maybe more than one foot. Ruth Spencer, a buttoned-up, bespectacled and be-bunned secretary is at her desk attending, with admirable efficiency, to her boss’s every request. This does not prevent her from plying the pages of her favorite reading, the celebrity movie magazines of the era. The latter say much more about the real Miss Spencer, who nurses a direct-from-the-talkies fantasy about one day catching the boss’s eye, and heart. Characteristically he – a disembodied smoothie-voice coming over her desktop personal address – sees her as nothing more than a utility. He has the insensitivity to consult her about composing a letter of seduction to another woman. And asks her what sort of gift he should get!
Spurned by the rest of the secretarial pool, who refer to her as the “bulldog”, Ruth is left alone to work late hours and day dream about better things. Here is the show’s magic. Rasooly brings these daydreams vividly to life in the form of paper cut out characters and props, all gorgeously loosed from the pages of Ruth’s movie magazines. Add in the use of period love songs and film themes coming over her small, bakelite radio, and ingenious deployment of office fixtures for atmospherics, and you have a marvelously innovative form of musical puppet theatre. The simplicity of the concept is as seductive as it is formally imaginative. We are treated to exquisite black and white photo stills of some of Hollywood’s finest – Dietrich, Bergman, Fontaine, Bogart, Boyer, and Cary Grant to name a few – hop-hop-hopping about on a desktop stage with magazine spread backdrops and lush musical swells.
Rasooly supplies all the voices while working the miniature mechanics and characters. It’s an inspired visual performance. To a movie-literate audience, it’s catnip. There are hints that Ruth’s (bull)dog’s-body demeanor veils a nature that is much more assertive, even violent. Witness how ruthlessly and crisply she tyrannizes anyone requesting an appointment with her boss. Her day dreams begin to tap into this passionate side, and when jealousy rears its ugly head, Ruth’s romantic narrative begins to swerve off-course, rushing headlong toward a scenario of victimization and murderous deception.
As her investment in her fantasy realm deepens, her halo as efficient secretary begins to slip, and everything surges forward to a hair-raising and clever denouement which delivers a bang, and not, I might add, from the paper cut out revolver that’s being brandished. Ripping!
If one had a churlish bone to pick with this otherwise delightful show, it would be about the somewhat unambitious scope the narrative holds. Rasooly and co-author Lior Lerman never quite allow anything to break the frame of their time-honored tale. The tone is strictly pastiche, played for light farce. When Rasooly vocally lets loose with excerpts from some torchy blues numbers, the emotional register shifts significantly. She is more than capable of delivering this feeling and it is in some regards a shame that the authors never explore this or permit their characters a sliver of depth. Who knows what might have been? As it is, all is preserved as flatly two-dimensional. Which I suppose, in another way, is the point; It’s Only a Paper Moon. Certainly the capacity-filled and highly appreciative audience did not feel the want of anything extra. This is light and crafty entertainment. At the end of the day, however slight, you don’t have to go deep to really feel a paper cut.
Writer: Yael Rasooly and Lior Lerman
Director: Yael Rasooly