Critic in residence Nicholas Leno writes,

Paper can be anything, even children’s theatre! Paper Song gracefully floated into In The Soil Saturday afternoon at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre. It features classic stories of good versus evil from Japanese culture.

Paper Song is based around the folktale of Tsuru the Crane which, for those who don’t know, is basically a love story gone wrong; when husband Osamu realizes his wife’s magical ability to spin gold, he takes advantage of her gift through creed. But, much to Osamu’s surprise, Tsuru is actually a mythical Crane.  Tsuru leaves her husband, causing him to transform into an evil goblin creature called a Tengu. The story begins when Osamu the Tengu takes over a small village of mice who construct their homes out of paper origami; the villainous goblin captures the village’s grandfather mouse. It is up to his daughter Otakuchan to find the Tengu’s lost love and save the entire village from sure destruction. On her quest Otakuchan evokes the helpful aid of a fire fly, and at some points even the audience, to defeat the malicious goblin monster.

Otakuchan (Zina Lee) attempts to defeat the evil Tengu (Ntara Curry)

Otakuchan (Zina Lee) attempts to defeat the evil Tengu (Ntara Curry)

Concrete Theatre’s production designer Cory Sincennes shows off his mastery of video projections. The production contains countless stunning moments where Sincennes brilliantly changes locations through projections cast onto the blank white paper set; bright blue waves engulf a white box as we sail through the ocean; then, as goblin Tengu approaches, the water becomes choppy and turns bright red. What will our hero do? Will she escape? We watch and hope for the best as Sincennes’ design takes us on a wild and visually rich ride.

The cast of three bring a lot of energy to the performance. Sean Baek was a particular favourite for children in the audience as the grandfather mouse, disarmingly funny and genuinely touching. Zina Lee (Otakuchan) lends her beautiful singing voice to the production; songs shared by her and Baek frame the play’s action with uplifting comedic energy aimed towards the audience’s younger members.

Baek and Lee even try to incorporate the audience into their songs, asking us to sing or make sound effects to will help them defeat the goblin monster. Unfortunately, their attempt to include the audience had minimal success due to how late the tactic was employed. When a show begins, its performers form a contract with their audience – the audience says “Okay, this is a show about this and does that.” By waiting until their last two songs before asking the audience to sing along, Baek and Lee did not include audience participation in their contract with us. Audience incorporation has a place in Paper Song, and if the idea was introduced earlier and used more consistently Baek and Lee would have had the entire theatre singing along.

The exposition needed to tell the story of Tsuru the Crane is also slightly problematic. The show opens with actors using paper puppets to reenact the myth of Tsuru, which sets up the Tengu’s backstory. I felt a serious trimming was needed, and that the central conflict between the Tengu and the village of mice needed to be introduced earlier. The exposition lasts so long that the audience is almost lead to believe Tsuru is the story’s protagonist. Playwright Jared Matsunaga-Turnball wrote the show as a way of exploring his own Japanese heritage, which does makes the mythical context itself important; but, the play’s genus lies in what Matsunaga-Turnball has constructed from the myth, and his vision gets muddled by the extensive backstory.

Nevertheless, Concrete Theatre brought a beautiful performance and a stunning design to the Courthouse Theatre this weekend. Sure, the play has its problems, but don’t let my critiques deter you: Paper Song is a wholesome and educational story that will fold its way into your heart.

For more information on Concrete Theatre and Paper Song please visit

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