Ronnie Burkett Marionette Theatre

10 Days on Earth

Created and performed by Ronnie Burkett

Dates 7 - 17 December 2006, 8pm Venue Vancouver East Cultural Centre

Reviewer John Jane

Ronnie Burkett

When watching Ronnie Burkett’s Marionette Theatre presentation, 10 Days on Earth, one has to put aside all preconceptions of puppet theatre. This is not, by any stretch, a puppet show for the family. It is a spectacularly skillful production with bold storytelling, occasional black humour, and two hours of razor-edged dialogue delivered with insightful revelations.

The Albertan string-puller operates and voices the puppets from the perspective of a dramatist who gives each of his meticulously crafted marionettes a distinctive personality. He is not a precise mimic. As he gives character voices to the dozen or so 20 inch high dolls, his pitch and tone is barely discernible.

10 Days on Earth differs from Burkett’s previous productions in so much that his own presence is entirely transparent. Dressed in black, he controls his wood and paper-maché cast on long strings from above the proportionately scaled set.

At the centre of the story is the unlikely hero, Darrell, a mentally challenged man in middle-age. His daily life is routine and uncomplicated; he catches the same bus at the same time and talks to the same people every day. But when his mother suddenly disappears into her bedroom and dies in her sleep, his world begins to unravel.

Initially, Darrell is unaware of his mother’s state, assuming she is merely sleeping. As Darrell goes about his everyday activities, Burkett navigates his spellbound audience with flashbacks. We see his character in multiple forms, each representing a different age and facet of his life. I counted eight different models representing Darrell.

To deal with the frustrations he suffers at not being able to communicate with his mother, Darrell daydreams about the characters in his favourite book. This unfolds as a story-within-a-story, where the misadventures of ‘Honeydog’ (a terrier in a smart cranberry jacket) and his friends juxtaposes Darrell’s own struggle in finding acceptance.

While Honeydog’s exploits, played out against a rolling verdant landscape, offer an amusing diversion from the poignancy of the main theme, it seemed too puerile for an audience already conditioned by the profane ranting of Lloyd, a homeless man with a Messianic complex.

Cathy Nosaty’s musical score - particularly the theme song, “Angel” - blends so well, it hardly gets noticed.

In Burkett’s evocative tale, we ultimately discover that outstanding achievement is perhaps less substantial than how much is achieved with our limited abilities.

© 2006 John Jane