Five lives intersect in Paper Cranes, the new offering by Packawallop Productions. And though Kari Bentley-Quinn’s script might initially appear to follow a familiar path involving interconnected characters, there is plenty of interesting fodder in this sturdy work. The thru line in Cranes is pretty easy to grasp. Mona (Cynthia Silver) is a widowed mother of a nineteen-year-old girl, Maddie (Sarah Lord). Maddie, a young lesbian who has yet to come out, hooks up with the more sensitive, older Julie (Melissa Hammans), whose best friend is Amy (Susan Louise O’Connor). Amy, meanwhile, has begun a semi-anonymous relationship with David (Eric T. Miller), who is in the same grief counseling group as…Mona.
Yet as cut-and-dried as this description might be, Bentley-Quinn’s play is anything but. Director Scott Ebersold has collected a winning ensemble of actors who provide plenty of substance to Cranes. This show could have been a mawkish look at lonely hearts, but wisely sidesteps such a choice. It is actually savvy reflection of modern life and mating rituals. These characters all know how to find people. Meeting someone – even sleeping with someone – is facile to them.
It’s how to reconcile with what comes next that each member of this quintet must grapple with in their own way. They are all masking their own private hurt. Maddie, for instance, longs for her late father, who was her confidante. David has yet to begin recovering from his girlfriend’s untimely death. Even Amy, who at first might seem to be the most in-control of this group, has her own demons to keep at bay.
It almost seems unnecessary to mention how convincing the marvelous O’Connor is as Amy, but it should be said. The actress mines all sorts of depth to imbue the character with a sultry yet sad vibe. Amy knows she has a lot going for her, but there’s still something missing, and she doesn’t know how to fill that void. It’s a gorgeously calibrated performance.
Equally well-staged by both Ebersold and the team of Hammans and Lord is the budding romance between Julie and Maddie. Both actresses are certainly impressive physically. Their love scenes are a convincing look at a couple in the early stage of their relationship, when the body rush takes over and just a hint of awkwardness persists. But the emotional link between the two is equally accurate, demonstrating that despite a fifteen-year age gap between the two, they really might have a deep bond.
Miller, too, does an admirable job of channeling David’s dark side and slowly revealing just what might be motivating his actions. He is arresting in his scenes with O’Connor, but shares even more chemistry in his tender scenes with Silver, who melds weary and worry with dry humor marvelously. It is to the credit of Ebersold and his cast that they never manipulate the audience’s emotions. Our sympathy with each of these characters always remains organic.
Bentley-Quinn clearly has great affection for each of these characters. Even when they feel like familiar types, something we have seen before, she has drawn them so sharply that we soon learn they are all worth caring about and paying attention to. The same can be said for this smart production – and the playwright as well.