Marionette master Ronnie Burkett's tightened-up show aches with humanity By GLENN SUMI
HAPPY written and performed by Ronnie Burkett, with Cathy Nosaty. Presented by Rink-A-Dink Inc. and Canadian Stage (26 Berkeley). Runs to March 3, Monday-Saturday 8 pm. $20-$40. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNN
Shit happens. Ronnie Burkett’s Happy, his latest puppet show for adults, opens with a scatological scene and then moves on to a deeper examination of the nasty stuff we leave behind, or fail to leave behind, on life’s journey.
The play looks at a handful of characters – young, old, gay, straight, happy (like the title character) or sad – living in a boarding house. When one of the boarders suddenly dies, his partner, Karla, a poetic, gloomy sort, becomes even gloomier, and the stages of her grief are played out in an all-grey musical cabaret hosted by a campy MC who says things like “I haven’t had this much fun since the intermission at Larry’s Party.”
Burkett’s tightened the show considerably since its World Stage premiere last spring, and the subtle shifts of mood and colour are more graceful.
Certain set pieces – like a dance sequence at a hotel, or a soldier’s life-changing encounter with a concentration camp victim – are as moving as ever. The puppets, too, are hugely expressive, and Burkett has pared down his craft so that in some scenes a hand-held wooden head communicates all we need to know.
There are some inconsistencies. It’s never clear why Burkett himself takes on one of the characters, the songs could stand to be polished some, and the character of Karla, as the MC admits, is a bit of a drag, especially since we know so little about her.
But it’s hard not to be moved by Burkett’s artistry and the humanity of his vision.