The latest from Beth Corning's Glue Factory Project is billed as "an adult dancetheater puppet production." I'd also call it "boutique theater." The show opened its limited run last night.
The delightful if darkly funny production, based on a concept by Canada's Company X, is designed for three performers, numerous puppets and a small audience. The chief incarnation of its puppet-protagonist, Little Finn himself, is nearly miniature; his floppy-limbed body fits in your hand. This production blending human movement and puppetry is one audiences need to be close to see, and seating in the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh basement theater is limited to about 30.
"Like most of us, his life was small," a pre-recorded narrator tells us of Finn. The story follows him from birth through school, work, courtship, marriage (to a mail-order Russian bride) and the inevitable. It's a poignant narrative, told with sympathy shaded by mordant humor. But the show (here's Steve Sucato's preview for CP) is all in its tone and details.
Corning, who formerly headed Dance Alloy Theatre, is steeped in the European dance-theater tradition, which is less about athleticism and spectacle and more about gesture and nuance. It's an approach especially suited to her Glue Factory concept of dance work for performers over age 40. Here, Corning is joined by kindred spirits Marina Harris (who largely created the show with her husband, Kip) and Melinda Evans, a frequent Harris collaborator over the years.
Thus, early on we get an exquisite trio, the three women all dressed in black, pajama-like two-piece outfits, with the Finn doll a sort of hand-borne bystander to the fraught interplay between his mother (Evans), an unscrupulous suitor (Corning) and a third undefined character (Harris). It's beautiful, and ends with a perfectly staged detail: a human hand on a puppet-sized proscenium, stubbing out a cigarette in a tiny spotlight.
Other Finn puppets — a rod puppet, for instance — are larger. And pther scenes are more on the comic side. In one, evoking Finn's unluckiness at love, the women takes turns abusing the bean-bag hearts Finn has mailed them.
Indeed, the overall feel is quite European: the dark fairy-tale quality, the ambiguously (un)happy ending, right down to the Germanically accented voice-over narration. The name "Finn," Harris said during an audience talk-back after the show, was even borrowed from a Norwegian friend's brother.
There are seven remaining performance of Little Finn, but three are sold out, including tonight's. Your best chance is probably for evening shows this Saturday and Sunday. See www.corningworks.org.