Created and performed by Ronnie Burkett

Dates: 4 December - 21 December 2003, 8pm
Venue: Vancouver East Cultural Centre

Reviewer: John Jane




Music & Sound Design: Cathy Nosaty
Lighting: Bill Williams
Stage Manager: Angie Jones

Watching Ronnie Burkett’s Marionette Theatre presentation, Provenance, puts aside all preconceptions of puppet theatre. This is not a puppet show for children but a spectacular production with moments of bold storytelling, occasional black humour, and two hours of razor-edged dialogue delivered with ingenious revelations that begins with the puppet master’s invitation, “Follow my voice”.

This Lethbridge string-puller is neither a ventriloquist nor a mimic. As he gives character voices to the dozen or so 20 inch high dolls, the pitch and tone is barely discernible. Burkett operates and voices the puppets from the perspective of a dramatist who gives each of his meticulously crafted marionettes a distinctive personality.

The complex story centres on Pity Beane, an unlikely heroine, whose life mentor was her father’s gay partner who she continues to refer to as ‘Uncle Boyfriend’. Her sojourn in search of the mystical quality of beauty takes her to a Viennese bordello where she encounters some very ‘colourful’ characters.

Pity’s point of reference in her mission is an equivocal painting of a beautiful androgynous subject named ‘Tender’ - prominently displayed and occasionally illuminated at centre stage - a direct contrast to her own perceived image of a ‘Plain Jane’.





As Leda relates her fascinating story, Burkett navigates his spellbound audience through flashbacks. We see her character in multiple forms, each representing a different age and facet of her vivid life - from the society wife to a doting trophy husband to a bordello madam who takes moral directions from an imaginary cow.

Our heroine’s adventure initially brings her into a confrontation with Vespa Poopermann, a comically unpleasant, mannish woman who zealously stands guard at the ‘sporting house’. Brave persistence finally allows her to meet Herschel Flechtheim, a kindly Viennese Jew who fled to the United States sixty years earlier but is now back ‘home’ and is the last known owner of the painting. Pity is introduced to Leda Otenreath, the house madam, and soon gains her confidence. Pity persuades Leda to allow her to receive a client in order to experience being an objet-de-desir.

Burkett is visible throughout the performance. Dressed in a black tuxedo, his presence ranges from transparent to near-obtrusive. At times, exploding into outrageous action through one of his characters.

Cathy Nosaty’s score - particularly the melancholic cabaret song - fits the production so well, that it hardly gets noticed.

Much like the story’s tiny heroine who ultimately discovers beauty not in eroticism but in reality, Burkett hopefully succeeds in his quest in challenging his audience to find beauty in the face and form of the ordinary.

© 2003, John Jane