Finding Clarity in Confusion

By Shachia Bryan (Excerpt from original piece)

You would think that a play with five performers, music and a spotlight would be very simple, but that was far from the case in The Better Half.

The five characters — Mrs. Manahan, Mr. Manahan, Elizabeth, Nancy and the Director — lined up awkwardly on stage as if they needed direction from an outside force, and I was confused for the first couple of minutes of the play wondering when it would begin or what was the purpose of them wandering around on stage. Soon the performance unfolded into a series of unexpected events such as patty cake games, repeating scenes, running off stage randomly, invisible objects and even an unprovoked, enraged husband. As the director, Leslie Danzig explained in the Talk Back after the show, she intended to portray the confusion of life and the different stages that people pass through, so confusion formed the structure and frame of The Better Half. That frame encapsulated themes such as identity, trust, love and purpose.

Each of the characters had a distinct set of dance moves that identified who they were. The Better Half essentially centered on Mr. and Mrs. Manahan’s marriage, and their relationship unfolded as they danced the same dance in each scene, but each time with a different mood. Their duet went from awkward to playful to annoyed to angry to fearful and, finally, to forgiving. Minimalism in the repetition of the dance steps was effective; through repetition I gradually recognized the portrayal of the stages of a relationship and the pure craziness that often occurs between two people.

A lot was thrown at the audience and unless you were wide-awake or you went to the Talk Back, you might have left the theater feeling a little confused. But in hindsight, I understood the messages that director Leslie Danzig delivered. In life people go through careers, love and marriage and, at times, they simply feel stuck in the whirlwind of their dull, repetitious lives. The Better Half portrayed this confusion and touched upon important matters like identity, trust, love and purpose. An audience can appreciate the relevance of these messages and anyone could relate to the characters and the heart of Danzig at the end of the day. In retrospect, Danzig accomplished her goals through intended confusion.