Lucky Plush’s newest dance-theater work, Rooming House, begins with an intimate conversation among friends recalling stories of people who’ve taken actions with potentially devastating costs. When the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is mentioned, varied interpretations and contemporary associations propel the group into a physically and psychologically complex game of whodunit. Playful and personal, Rooming House offers a lively blueprint for pursuing the question: what makes a person do something that could have shattering and irreparable consequences?
Rooming House is Artistic Director Julia Rhoads and director Leslie Danzig’s third collaboration, created with the work’s six-person ensemble. The production opens with lights and sound coming up slowly, allowing audiences’ eyes and ears to adjust to the familiarity of the relationships and the immediacy of the conversation, which easily slips between English and Spanish. After a few personal anecdotes, the example of Orpheus looking back at Eurydice is raised and variously interpreted. The ensuing game of whodunit turns the myth into a game-blueprint in which the ensemble considers individual culpability and psychological states within the stages—or “rooms”—of decision-making.
While the work sheds a present-day light on the myth, Danzig and Rhoads are not staging an adaptation. Their investments lie with the correlative storytelling that emerges from the group’s disputes, deceptions and alliances. The conditions of the story slide easily into present-day circumstances: What does it even mean to look back? What are your options when you don’t understand the terms of a deal in which you’re implicated? Sure, it’s normal to have doubts at a wedding, but it’s probably not the best time to air them.
As the game unfolds, the ‘truth’ of any particular story is up for grabs as the players strategically create evidence for their claims of culpability, rearranging plot points and reinterpreting causal factors. Rooming House becomes, in part, about how we use stories to make cases for what we believe in and how we draw each other into our perceptions of what is real.
The myth and game structure offer familiar anchors that allow the audience to form expectations, which then can be broken as performers follow their idiosyncratic preoccupations and wrestle with the conditions of the performance—often being a source of comedy and delight for the audience. Smart and quirky subversion is in the DNA of all LPP’s work and allows the company to earn the exciting slippage between—and surprising coherence of—pedestrian action and abstract choreography.
Lucky Plush’s work is distinct within a dance-theater tradition. Language is conversational rather than abstract, poetic, or presentational and the performers are foregrounded as distinct, imperfect human beings. Rooming House has its own set of formal and aesthetic logics, and moves beyond the predictable by earning each shift between dance and dialogue, literal and abstract. Ultimately, the audience experiences the joy of assembling disparate elements and finding meaningful entries into complex work.