Andy’s an annoying, pathetic loser. The calculus teacher and treasurer of the American Origami Society keeps a record of all his “blessings” in a notebook he carries. Andy’s something of a stalker, too, and at the start of Rajiv Joseph’s fractured romantic tragicomedy Animals Out of Paper, the character snivels his way into the studio apartment of Ilana, a paper-folding expert who’s written a how-to book on origami that Andy counts as one of his favorites. He also manages to convince Ilana, as she recovers from a bout of folder’s block, to become mentor to Suresh, a cocky but brilliant student of his who has shown great promise. When Andy leaves his blessing book in her apartment, Ilana discovers, on reading it, that his desperately cheerful demeanor is actually “filled with pain,” and she becomes infatuated.
By some miracle, we also fall for this dweeb, and that miracle is Jeremy Shamos’s outstanding performance. His fellow players, sadly, don’t get to show us as much of their characters’ interiors, but Shamos’s fantastic comic timing and remarkable credibility lend heaps of humanity to the character: Drinking nervously on a third date, he fears rejection, then proposes. When things go wrong, his weepy rage breaks through, hinting at an unpleasant past full of rationalized “blessings” whose full details we never discover. Unlike Ilana, we don’t get to read the notebook, but we do get to see Shamos turn words on a page into a real human being.