Sun (Vancouver, Canada) December 14, 2003
RAUNCHY PUPPETS TAKE AUDIENCE ON A HAUNTING ODYSSEY
Ronnie Burkett's wooden-headed troupe are no ordinary marionettes. This show is an experience.
What a piece of work is Ronnie Burkett! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!
With apologies to Hamlet, his many exclamations are easily applied to Canada's master of the marionette. Burkett's profound puppetry in Provenance, his latest work of genius, is so astonishing that it beggars belief just one person creates so complex an evening of theatre. The logistics are mind-boggling, the execution flawless, and if you have to ask why tickets to a puppet show are fifty bucks a pop, you don't know what adults-only magic awaits you at the Cultch.
For starters, Burkett's ever-clever set and costume design sets new standards. Two years ago Tinka's New Dress featured a big carousel carrying 'round the many little members of Burkett's wooden-headed cast. This time the single set piece is smaller, seemingly crafted to fit perfectly into the Cultch without overwhelming it, and is so breathtaking that it plays beautifully into the play's theme of, well, beauty.
Various levels and tiny sets of stairs front a wall of tall closets where art nouveau meets Gustav Klimt. Each shimmering door opens to reveal various marionettes, brought forth by Burkett in his Austrian formal wear as he unfolds the story of a plain-Jane Canadian academic on her first trip abroad. Poor Pity Beane is obsessed with a painting, which now hangs in a Viennese bordello, and her quest to uncover its sexual secrets leads her (and us) on a haunting odyssey.
The painting is centre-stage. A fragile youth is tied, naked, to a tree, his limbs tangled with those of a swan. Pity's been so caught up in loving this image from afar that she's shut out the real world of her own schoolyard sexuality, and as always Burkett never flinches from a raw, rude and realistic approach to lust and love. His hometown fans in Calgary used to love giggling at Burkett's taste for what was often cheap titiillation, but from those raunchy roots comes an all-encompassing understanding of eros. From gay to straight with many stops between, Burkett now explores so many facets that even as we're chuckling at the author's cheek, the next moment might just as easily bring sentiments as dark and deep at the River Styx.
The script is enormously complicated, filled with tricks of wordplay and layers of poetry. Burkett sails though it all with elan as he quickly shifts between marionettes and hand-puppets and odd little figurines hanging off his face, aided in it all by the brilliantly subtle lighting palette of Bill Williams and a masterful soundscape by Cathy Nosaty.
Burkett even shows off a fine singing voice in some clever cabaret numbers. There's one sung by the dancing monkey, for instance, and a tiny indication of the gigantic talent on display here is the way that monkey lifts his little legs when skating backwards.
Huh? Beg pardon? You'll have to see it to believe it. And believe this - Provenance is an experience you'll never forget