IGNORANCE created and performed by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop (Old Trout/Canadian Stage). At the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). To December 15, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $22-$49. 416-368-3110. See listing.
Sometimes a theatre production should be seen and not heard.
That's the case with Ignorance, an occasionally delightful show by Calgary's Old Trout Puppet Workshop, a company that's brought us such entertaining works as Famous Puppet Death Scenes and The Unlikely Birth Of Istvan.
The collective group's new show, Ignorance, explores the idea that people in stone-age times were, on the whole, happier than we are today; this is despite the fact that our ancestors had to deal with ice ages, wooly mammoths, learning that fire can be an enemy as well as a friend and discovering that being hit with a rock hurts.
Created by many people, including those who commented on the company's website during the development process, Ignorance moves back and forth between prehistoric times and today.
In the former, we meet a man and a woman - versions of Adam and Eve - an alpha-male hulk who wants the woman for himself and various animal threats to these early versions of humankind. Bones of various sizes are the mainstays of these puppets, along with mops of hair and hinged jaw/head pieces.
In the present, the characters are a series of round-headed characters foiled by their attempts to connect and make meaning of their lives. Their chief enemy is another circular figure: a yellow balloon with a seemingly beguiling happy face that commits various sorts of grisly yet merry mayhem.
Both sets of puppets, energetically worked and inhabited by performers Nicolas Di Gaetano, Trevor Leigh and Viktor Lukawski - each in long-johns with a horn on his head - are amusing and clever. They range from shoe-based carnivorous mice and various-sized mammoths to suicidal ledge-jumpers and workers caught in an I Love Lucy-like sketch on a balloon conveyor belt.
The soundscape - drawing on bits of Bizet opera, Prokofiev ballet, Beethoven symphonies and what sounds like the stratospheric voice of Yma Sumac and the off-key vocal ramblings of Florence Foster Jenkins - adds to the humour, as do Jamie Nesbitt's rear-screen projections, often recalling 50 and 60s North American society.
What doesn't much help the production is the voiceover by the Trout's co-founder and artistic director, Judd Palmer, as an intentionally flat-voiced commentator who compares the two periods, offers philosophical advice as well as scientific bafflegab and points out how little happiness - 14.5 minutes, he concludes - today's humans have over the course of a lifetime.
Some of voiceover is funny but most of it isn't necessary. The enjoyable puppets, a delight to watch along with their clown-like manipulators, fill the stage with all the interpretation and entertainment we need.