By Tulis McCall
What origami and letter writing have in common is that they make a piece of paper into something else. In the case of origami the paper becomes an animal or a flower or a star – things of nature. A letter becomes a channel to another person – a thing of nurture. Both of these activities require precision. A specific fold, a specific word. Both activities are thoughtful and deliberate.
The text of these “letters”, however is sort of stream of consciousness, filled with a casual words: “like” and “gonna” and “you know” – so to my mind they are not letters. It might have made a difference if the actors (all of whom are fine performers) read the letters off of physical pages, which would have made them slow down so their performance would have been more thoughtful and deliberate.
As it is, these are monologues pure and simple. Given to someone who is not there, or may not be alive, or may be at a different address. The letters from Suresh (Ramiz Monsef) are sent to a Japanese Catholic priest, Father Hashimoto (Thom Sesma) after a chance encounter at and origami event on the site of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Suresh is a genius of sorts who conquers anything he attempts and origami was one of them. They bonded briefly and letters followed years later. We see Suresh from 18 into his 30’s (Mr. Monsef is more convincing as the elder Suresh) but the other characters are set in time. Melody ((Ali Ahn) is the great nice of Father Hashimoto and is the bearer of the news that he has died. She was the one to leave Seattle and travel to Japan for the funeral that was SRO. His few belongings included one origami bird and a box of letters from Suresh. She brings them home to her parents who, upon hearing the words, are transformed from tow crotchety old people to a loving couple. Melody takes this as a challenge to find out what the heck those letters are all about. What is their magic.
Melody never finds out and neither do we. The story expands to include Amelia (Kellie Overbey) whose affair with Suresh caused her life to fall apart. By some odd twist of fate Suresh invites her to stay in his empty apartment while he seeks out the sea. She does and finds Suresh’s letters sent from Melody as well as those from Father Hashimoto, and takes it upon herself to write Melody and explain who she is and why she has read everything.
Are you following all this?
Finally there is a touching, if predictable, letter from Father Hashimoto, detailing the one love he experienced as well as the day of the bombing.
At the end we see the four people whom fate has chosen to wrap up in all the paper that the world has to bestow. It is a charming essay on the interconnectedness of everything. But an essay is often cerebral to the point where the heart is barely involved. That was the case here. In the end we are interested in these characters but not concerned or involved. Mention must be made of the set and backdrop by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams which was ethereal and transporting.
Letters of Suresh by Rajiv Joseph, Directed May Adrales
WITH Ali Ahn, Ramiz Monsef, Kellie Overbey and Thom Sesma
Scenic Design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, Costume Design Amy Clark, Lighting Design Jiyoun Change
At SECOND STAGE through October 24. TICKETS