Dance review: Glue Factory's 'Finn' holds tight in winsome fashion

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Dance is generally a youth-oriented art in which performers dig into the earth or try to escape it, ready to gobble up space at the most delicate suggestion. But as those performers mature, the use of space minimizes and intensifies. Facets emerge that were just not there before.

It's a different way of moving, more patient, often more gratifying. Such was the case in a piece by Nova Scotia artists Marina and Kip Harris' Company X and produced by Beth Corning's The Glue Factory Project, which began its run at Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, North Side, Wednesday night.

This was art, a combination of animation, movement, theater, video, musical accompaniment and, most of all, puppetry, placed lovingly under a microscope, or, in more personal terms, Ms. Harris' discerning and sometimes oddball eye.

That was the fun of her densely woven and highly intelligent rendering of "The Life & Death of Little Finn." The title character was not always little; he morphed into several puppet sizes during the stages of his life, which was actually the "little" portion of story.

That emerges in the voiceover at the start. You immediately could see where this was going. It was a frank look at life, which can be messy at times. So its folk-like charm -- rendered through birth, school, work (as a bean-counter), adulthood (dating a Russian mail-order bride) and death -- was coated with a dark sense of humor, sometimes bordering on absurdist (as in the gaggle of mini-co-workers who "jumped" off a skyscraper rather than shuffle papers for a living).

A few times "Finn" was too precious, mostly during the opening interactions between Finn's mother (Melinda Evans) and the unscrupulous lover (Ms. Corning) and a subsequent tango, where the eyes said too much and the bodies, too.

The devil may have been in the details there, but this production's success was all about the details, and the rest of them, a clear majority, sparkled:

• Finn's three robust hairs.

• The ritualistic making of Finn's bed, with handmade (like everything else) linens.

• How the puppet handlers actually looked and reacted to the characters they held, not only in their hands, but obviously in their hearts.

• The use of beautifully scaled fish in the colorful videos (yes, as in fins).

It was almost like a giant shadow box of a production, a robust extension of Joseph Cornell's iconic art and full of so many delicious components that were presented with a strong artistic and intimate significance.

So much so that it's well worth another look at the winsome, unapologetic and ultimately winning "Finn."

The Life & Death of Little Finn" runs through Sunday. Some performances are sold out (www.showclix.com or www.corningworks.org).

theater

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at jvranish1@comcast.net. She also blogs at pittsburghcrosscurrents.com.


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