BETTER HALF DEAD, at Victory Gardens Theater. A sign in the lobby warns audience members not to give away the ending. Not to worry: if I gave it away, you'd just give it back. Better Half Dead--a threadbare thriller by Joan Torres, coauthor of Men Who Hate Women & the Women Who Love Them--is better off half known. Convoluted but utterly predictable, the plot is seemingly lifted from "Lifestyles of the Rich and Fatuous," chronicling the double-dealings that link a bitchy Long Island society dame, her petulant preppie husband, her up-and-coming-artist ex-husband, and her seemingly ditzy New Age sister.
You could pass a small solar system through the holes in the plot: we're supposed to overlook the fact that a would-be blackmailer puts his fingerprints all over a murder weapon, for example. The surprise ending is only half right. But what makes Better Half Dead DOA are the thudding character cliches: a gay lawyer who does Dietrich imitations, amoral yuppies, a crystal-gazing California airhead.
Too smart for Torres's script, Dennis Zacek's staging is curiously miscast: Sean Grennan should play the macho artist and Patrick Clear the elegantly dithering husband. Joan Schwenk depicts the coldhearted slattern as if auditioning for Edward Albee, and Susan Hart is breathlessly stereotypical as the brainless blond. Refusing to succumb, Dan Moser gives the gay confidant a tenacious dignity.