The Life and Death of Little Finn is a hybrid dancetheater/ puppet/ animation performance created and performed by collaborators Beth Corning, Melinda Evans, Marina Harris and Kip Harris (playing this weekend at the Children’s Museum). The piece is presented under the auspices of “The Glue Factory Project,” which annually presents work by renowned performers over the age of forty, and in many ways Little Finn shares the dry, world-weary humor of the project’s title (the glue factory referring, I assume, to what happens to old mares). The story told here is a relatively uneventful one: a puppet-boy is abandoned by his mother, grows up lonely, seeks fulfillment and love, settles into a soul-killing office job, winds up in therapy, and finally finds happiness in the arms of a mail-order bride. It’s not a particularly compelling narrative, but the narrative isn’t really the point here — rather, the story serves as a skeleton for a series of branching vignettes that combine music, dance, animation, voiceover, and projected texts to embroider and meditate upon the small victories and tragedies that make up ordinary lives.
The tone of this chamber piece (it runs just over an hour, and plays to a very intimate audience) is dry and bittersweet; it bears the knowing and ironic perspective of a group of creators who have “been there, done that.” The puppets, props, costumes, and animation were all painstakingly handcrafted by Marina Harris, with exquisite care and craftsmanship, and the music, by Ben Bernstein, sets off the understated movement and choreography nicely. The piece achieves its best effects through a steady interplay of contrasts — between puppets and live performers, between the two-dimensionality of the screen and the three-dimensionality of the space, between large and small, slow and fast, light and heavy. One of the best scenes in the performance is a vignette in which the puppet Finn sits at a bar or café; we hear a recording of a man’s voice reciting a series of desperate, awkward pickup lines and date patter in rapid, breathless repetition while, in much slower motion, Corning joins the puppet for what turns out to be a very bad date. The writing here, by Kristoffer Jacobson, is some of the sharpest & slyest in the piece, and the juxtaposition of the streaming soliloquy and the slower real-time movement is odd and compelling, as we simultaneously occupy Finn’s inner headspace and sympathize with the women who have the misfortune to go out with him.
Little Finn is — like its title character — quiet and charming, offering a wry and whimsical perspective on the small dramas of little lives.