Ronnie Burkett’s Theatre of Marionettes (a.k.a. The Daisy Theatre) took audiences on a fun emotional rollercoaster this month at the Actors’ Gang venue at the Ivy Substation in Culver City. Although the cars must stay on the same rail every night, there’s enough of a mix in audience participation and raw improv to make you want to buy a ticket for the next night’s wild ride. I visited Burkett’s amusement, presented by the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, on Nov. 12.
Who is Ronnie Burkett, you ask? If Robin Williams were alive, Canadian, gay and an amazingly accomplished puppeteer, he’d be Ronnie Burkett. His puppets, in the old language of vaudeville, are “triple threats”: they sing, dance and act. One even does a strip routine!
In the world of marionettes, Ronnie is God. He builds their universe, he imagines and makes them from scratch, and then he gives each a unique physique, wardrobe, character and soul. And, of course, he gives them voices (except ironically for an over-the-hill ventriloquist). And like God, he’s even created his own Jesus — only this one is attached with strings. Like a cruel God, he pulls the marionettes’ strings in and out of tragicomic situations, as well as his audience’s heartstrings. The epilogue, delivered by a character named Schnitzel, brought me to tears.
Burkett impudently unveils his weaknesses to send a message while we’re laughing. His show is a glaring example of how an artist can put words in a puppet’s mouth that he could never put elsewhere. Like Daniil Kharms, who wrote “The Old Woman” (an “absurd” play that CAP UCLA also brought to LA last week) and who wrote children’s books, Burkett knows that children’s media is a powerful subterfuge for messages that other media would be reluctant to touch. But unlike Kharms, Burkett turns the absurd into humor — without diluting his subversive message. And Burkett’s show is definitely NOT for children.
In closing, for sheer entertainment that leaves you awestruck, that makes you laugh, that makes you cry and that makes you think, go see Ronnie Burkett the next time he comes to LA.
—Ekphrasis Rex, Culture Spot LA
For information about Ronnie Burkett’s Theatre of Marionettes, visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ronnie-Burkett-Theatre-of-Marionettes/417661968269782.
For more about CAP UCLA, visit http://cap.ucla.edu.
Ekphrasis Rex is the nom de plume of an art aficionado who heads an engineering group specializing in green technology.