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Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer  |  May 03, 2013

Lucky Plush Productions presents winsome look at relationships (review)

What a bunch of charmers take to the stage -- and sometimes the audience -- in "The Better Half," the antic and acrobatic look at relationships that the Chicago dance-theater company Lucky Plush Productions is performing this weekend at the Allen Theatre.

Four of the five cast members amble on from the wings and stare into the house, as if they're in awe of the space. One of the men becomes the stage manager, who races through the script and assigns characters in what appears to be a tweaking of the 1944 film noir "Gaslight."

But Lucky Plush artistic director Julia Rhoads and Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, who co-created and co-directed "The Better Half," have something much more madcap and subversive up their sleeves. Working closely with the cast, they've devised a winsome and inventive, if slight, study of marriage and, as Stephen Sondheim puts it, the art of making art.

Everything happens as if the cast is making it all up on the spot. The narrative -- 70 minutes without intermission -- evolves from variations on "Gaslight" to crash course in pop-culture references, including tidbits from "The Bourne Identity" and "Scenes from a Marriage."

PREVIEW

Lucky Plush Productions

What: The Chicago dance-theater company performs "The Better Half" by Julia Rhoads and Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, presented by DanceCleveland and Cleveland Play House.

When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday.

Where: Allen Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland.

Tickets: $25 and $45. Go to playhousesquare.org or call 216-241-6000.

Patterns of dialogue and movement are repeated, supplemented and intensified, often to merrily twisted effect. The plot thickens and switches gears as the performers become more deeply invested in their duties, which toe the line between wacky and perplexing.

The work's principal thematic device emanates from "Gaslight," in which a psychotic husband tries to drive his wife bonkers. In this version, Mr. Manningham (Adrian Danzig) and Mrs. Manningham (Rhoads) test one another both on emotional and physical levels, at several points hurling one another over their respective shoulders in bursts of frustration.

The narrator (Timothy Heck) becomes a caffeinated Detective Rough. The housekeeper, Elizabeth (Meghann Wilkinson), grows bored and heads into another script. Most screwball of all is the maid, Nancy, who is portrayed, to his (and our) initial surprise, by the impish and nimble Francisco Avina.

In its cheeky melding of dance, dialogue, lighting effects, video and music (Mikhail Fiksel's suspenseful pizzicato motifs are especially zany), the mild-mannered "Better Half" pays affectionate and deadpan tribute to myriad sources without coalescing into something that sticks.

But the cast couldn't be more ideal. Rhoads is adorable and intrepid as the wife, and her equally tireless colleagues meet her on the same mirthful wavelength.
DANCECleveland

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