Toronto Sun (Toronto, Canada) Saturday, January 17, 2004
Zing go the
Sun Rating: 4 out of 5
Provenance maintains puppeteer Ronnie Burkett's standards
Most of us think of theatre as a team sport. So does Ronnie Burkett, the man who is Rink-A-Dink Inc., and arguably Canada's most exciting and inventive maker and manipulator of marionettes. Burkett, however, has chosen to play pretty much every position on the team himself, save perhaps waterboy and colour commentator. He has proven to be a pretty impressive team, earning raves and international acclaim for a series of adult-themed puppet shows as diverse as Fool's Edge, Tinka's New Dress, Street Of Blood and Happy.
Team Burkett is back in Toronto at CanStage's Berkeley Street Theatre, with a new work titled Provenance, which opened Thursday night.
Like Burkett's earlier shows, this too has the hallmarks of championship, although it is becoming increasingly evident that under Burkett's coaching, certain members of his team of one seem to be developing at a more advanced pace than others.
Right off the top, Provenance proves that as a maker and manipulator of puppets and marionettes, Burkett's already impressive skills continue to evolve as he pushes aside previous boundaries to expand the universe in which he labours.
In spinning out this tale of a troubled young woman named Pity Beane and the painting that obsesses her, Burkett dazzles with an array of beautifully-realized marionettes, layering them with puppets -- or portions of puppets -- that merely evoke them, in order to expand their range.
It's a ploy that puts even more pressure on Burkett the performer. He proves equal to the task, not just accompanying his characters and his audience to dizzying heights and great depths, but leading them there as well, with an often brilliant simplicity.
As a writer, Burkett seems to have grown, too, for all that he continues to labour in a by-now familiar milieu peopled by cabaret artists, drag queens, wise-cracking gays, endearing crones and wise old men.
In Provenance, he experiments with a whole new world of blank verse and rhyming couplets. While old Will Shakespeare needn't fret about his position in English lit, Burkett proves quite adroit in both creating poetry and using it to maximum effect.
Meanwhile, Burkett the dramaturge continues to rest on his laurels, secure in the knowledge that, as long as the puppetry charms and amuses, the audience Burkett has developed over the years is unlikely to complain about Burkett the playwright's inclination to ramble.
Still, in an arena where a team is only as strong as its weakest player, followers of Team Burkett might be a little concerned about the performance of Burkett the director, and justifiably so. Although Provenance has plenty to say about beauty and how we relate to it, it fails to say it with the clarity we've come to expect, contenting itself to talk around it instead.
Worse, when Burkett finally traces to its very conception the provenance of the painting to which young Ms. Beane is so attached, he doesn't merely give us a glimpse of territory so brutal and horrifying that we are tempted to look away, he dwells on it so long that we finally have no choice.
Yet, even then, Burkett is proving his worth as an artist, demonstrating that he can so inhabit a marionette that we must avert our eyes to avoid seeing its dehumanization.
By now, however, there are a few things Team Burkett no longer needs to demonstrate.