Put sleek silver scissors in the hands of a set-in-his ways man, and giant reams of white paper in the hands of a rambunctous young boy, and things are bound to get interesting. Add a large rock on a rope that seems to comes out of nowhere, and you’ve got the makings of “Rock Paper Scissors,” a one-hour play that’s equally appealing to children and adults.
Childsplay is currently performing a third variation of “Rock Paper Scissors,” a play written by Corey Madden and Laural Meade. The Tempe-based theater company first performed the work in June 2009, and Dutch artists who saw it invited actors David Dickinson and Jon Gentry to remount the work during a two month tour in the Netherlands presented by Speeltheater Holland and Oorkaan.
A second adaptation, featuring live music played on a stringed instrument called the viola de gambia, became known as “Steen Papier Schaar.” Childsplay invited Onny Huisink, who now heads a venture called Speeltheater Holland Studio with wife and fellow artist Saskia Janse, back to Arizona with his team for the first ”Steen Papier Schaar” run in America.
When a new viola de gambia player had trouble getting his visa, a third version evolved. The music is still there, though it’s recorded, and a third actor now moves much of the play’s action along while gracefully waving the viola de gambia’s bow as if she’s the muse meant to foment friendship between two disparate souls.
“Steen Papier Schaar,” which is being performed through Sunday at Tempe Center for the Arts, still features Dickinson as a hyperactive Yuki and Gentry as a hypervigilent Ollie, but Katie McFadzen has joined the cast as puppeteer and beautiful orchestrator of the bow. Her graceful movements as new character Angel, wrought while barefoot and dressed in flowing white garb, seem to create the space into which bright red flowers and an unexpected friendship blossom.
Before the show starts, audience members see three large panels divided into various rectangular shapes — each filled in by pristine white paper. A silver metal platform on wheels sits in front of a black stool, giving the impression of a sterile room used for medical procedures. The top of a black viola de gambia case leans atop a white box shaped much like a television set, until McFadzen opens the show by revealing the instrument inside and gently whisking away its bow.
We first see Ollie (Jon Gentry) seated on the stool while hunching over the platform, initially his work space, wearing a grey, one-piece coverall and an expression of quiet resignation. Soon Ollie busies himself with cutting pieces of paper just so, and interacting in precise, predictable ways with a pair of hands that offer new work. Few words are spoken during the play, but actors create various sound effects — and recorded viola de gambia music shifts in volume and tone as the plot unfolds.
After a rock shatters Ollie’s mostly-quiet existence, a boy named Yuki explodes onto the scene in bright green tennis shoes and play clothes. He holds a yellow rectangle and delights in pushing buttons that cause a lot of noise. As Yuki plays, yellow patterns gyrate along the white walls of Ollie’s space. Other set pieces get pressed into service — including a conveyor belt and a large trash can. A dancing puppet made of paper and a giant monster with a Nick Cave Soundsuit feel join the fray.
“Steen Papier Schaar” features direction, scenic design, costume design and puppet design by Huisink. All add to the play’s effective coupling of slapstick silliness with sophisticated storytelling, which elicited laughter and giggles galore from children and adults during Sunday’s first matinee. It’s filled with surprise, humor and whimsy that works on several levels.
The paper that once formed walls eventually brings Ollie and Yuki together as they delight in cutting it side by side. There’s beauty on the other side, where steep mountains sit against a sky filled with shades found in rainbow sherbet. In the show’s final scenes, their friendship truly takes flight. It’s a beautiful ending to an exquisite work.
Childsplay recommends ”Steen Papier Schaar” for ages 5 and up. Younger children in Sunday’s audience often asked their parents to explain what they were seeing, and too many parents obliged them without worrying about disturbing others. Leave the really little ones at home this time around, and remind children 5 and older that it’s perfectly fine to watch a work of theater without catching every detail.
Encourage them ahead of time to hold their questions until the end of the play. “Steen Papier Schaar” cast members come out after the show to talk with audience members, and invite children to come forward so they can get a large piece of paper from the set to take home. Consider buying a batch of fax paper or roll of butcher paper before heading to the show, then turning your kids lose with it when you get home after seeing the play.
Parents eager to run with the play’s creativity theme can invite a few friends along to see the show — then have everyone over afterwards for some serious paper play. Try putting butcher paper on the floor so kids can take turns lying down and tracing each other’s outlines, covering snack tables with butcher paper so kids can decorate them with crayon art, or making paper dolls or puppets so kids can decorate them with markers or craft supplies. If you’re feeling especially crafty, challenge yourself to make a Halloween costume out of paper.
Click here for “Steen Papier Schaar” show and ticket information.