The folds and creases of life—those indelible marks that make us who we are—are traversed in City Lights Theater‘s season-opening production of Animals Out of Paper. Written by Rajiv Joseph, whose play The North Pool saw its world premiere in Palo Alto two years ago, and whose Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Animals is a delicate exploration of three people, the marks the world has left on them and the marks they leave on each other.

Sealed within her cluttered studio, origami master Ilana Andrews (Janis DeLucia) leads a life of hermitic squalor. Her marriage is finished, her beloved three-legged dog has run away and she hasn’t been producing any new work. This seclusion is disrupted by Andy (Damian Vega), a calculus teacher and the treasurer of an origami association who has tracked Ilana down, ostensibly to discuss unpaid membership fees, but actually because of Suresh (Danraj Rajasansi), a teenage origami prodigy whom he wants Ilana to mentor. That, and the fact that Andy has a major crush on the reclusive artist.

After Ilana’s reluctant agreement to tutor Suresh, much of the plot is predictable (the love triangle is easy to see coming from a mile away, and the teacher-learns-from-student trope is almost obligatory) but Joseph’s characters are as finely crafted as the paper animals that adorn the set, and the cast fleshes them out beautifully. Ilana, a caustic, neurotic artist; Andy, an aw-shucks loser who counts his blessings (literally—he keeps a notebook of them); Suresh, an emotionally strained young man who can effortlessly freestyle both origami and rap—three people who don’t seem like they should be in the same room come together over a shared love of paper folding. Director Karen Altree Piemme turns the resulting awkwardness into an art form.

The set is populated by a menagerie of folded figures, most prominent among them being a great swooping paper eagle, and the attention given to these details reflects the sensitivity of Joseph’s play. Dr. Robert Lang, the origami teacher with whom Rajiv Joseph studied in preparation for Animals, even provided his input for the production, and it shows. Although little paper folding actually occurs onstage, the art of origami nevertheless proves an elegant motif that is used to its full potential.

Animals Out of Paper
Thru Oct. 20
City Lights Theater Company