10 DAYS ON EARTH written and performed by Ronnie Burkett (CanStage, 26 Berkeley). To June 24. $36-$51, some discounts. See Continuing Listings. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Puppeteer Ronnie Burkett has set the bar so high that it's hard even for him - let alone others - to match his best works.
10 Days On Earth , which is getting its world premiere at CanStage , isn't first-rate Burkett, but it's still full of his hugely expressive puppets, poignant and witty dialogue and powerful dramatic situations.
It's missing one thing: a dramaturge.
Developmentally challenged Darrell is a middle-aged shoeshine worker whose mother Ivy has just passed away. Darrell doesn't know that, however, and keeps talking to her through her bedroom door. When not chatting with his friend Lloyd, a street person, or Irene, a Salvation Army worker, Darrell retreats into memories of his favourite book, which involves a dog and a duck and their search for a home.
Burkett has always had a sentimental streak, but here it's overwhelming. The storybook scenes are repetitive and overlong. What's more, they're written in cutesy, coy language that's meant to suggest some of Darrell's psychosexual inner life. Burkett's use of the words "queer," "gay" and "pink" are obviously significant, but the playwright doesn't follow through with the obvious theme of latent homosexuality. Too bad.
Burkett also avoids exploring more of Ivy's life. She was a single mother who waited 10 days for the birth father to visit them. What was her life like? The only flashbacks we see involve Darrell as a 10-year-old. What happened in the intervening 30 or 40 years?
Unlike some recent Burkett shows, there's little innovation in the puppets themselves. But the creatures it's easy to call them characters are still marvellously crafted, smiles or frowns etched onto their faces in a way that's achingly sad and real.