Ronnie Burkett has long been the patron saint of puppeteers – living proof that one can make a living by pulling strings. His marionettes are consistently beautiful, complex characters peering out of their carved faces, and his multi-faceted storytelling is always well-served by his theatrical ingenuity.
Burkett’s latest offering, 10 Days on Earth, is by far his most restrained show yet. It tells the story of Darrell, a developmentally disabled 50-year-old man with the mind and maturity of a 10-year-old. His mother, Ivy, has died, but Darrell doesn’t understand why she won’t come out of her room, or eat the sandwiches he makes for her. His gradual realization that all is not well is beautifully understated, but no less than heartbreaking – Burkett has always been a master of emotional catharsis. In the meantime, Burkett intersperses the story with scenes from Darrell’s favourite children’s book, in which Honeydog and Little Burp (a duckling in a tutu) search for a home. Along the way they encounter all sorts of bizarre animals (Burkett especially has fun with Blanche DuBaa, a southern belle of a sheep) who, naturally, teach them about the world.
Though the show is ultimately moving, it still somehow feels lacking in some way. A few narrative opportunities fall by the wayside – we wanted more from a scene where Darrell’s absentee father comes to visit him at the shoe shine stand where Darrell works. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare 10 Days on Earth to previous work by Burkett, but it’s also inevitable. Though 10 Days is certainly tidier than, say, Provenance (which we found absolutely compelling), it is so at the expense of the emotional risks that Burkett usually takes in his writing. It’s a safer show than he’s been known to put on, and while it is still well worth seeing, it is just a bit duller for that safety.
10 Days on Earth< runs until June 24th at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Call 416-368-3110 for tickets.