Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A World Hanging By A Thread - Penny Plain - Play Review

Penny Plain - Factory Theatre - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written and Performed by Ronnie Burkett
Runs until Feb. 18th 2012

I've heard SO much about Ronnie Burkett's marionette plays and I've tried to see them before and always made the mistake of waiting too long to get tickets and missed out every single time. So this time, I made sure I didn't miss out on Ronnie Burkett's newest play that uses his mastery of puppetry and his specifically created Marionettes in his never-for-kids show. These are dark plays. They may use puppets, but he's known for very dark plays.

In Penny Plain, the world is hanging by a thread, and I don't mean the puppets. An outbreak has ravaged every country with millions of deaths, there are food shortages and the food corporations are making excuses, and thus humankind is nearing the end of its rope. An old lady Penny Plain sits in her chair talking to her talking dog Geoffrey, which pretty much sets the tone for this absurdist look at the destruction of the earth and Penny's aim to survive it.

Burkett is the sole performer, voicing and moving every character (and there are many, with some characters having multiple marionettes in different states of dress and emotions), on an amazingly simple but beautiful puppet stage with two levels and various surprises in the mechanics of the stage that make watching Burkett perform his puppetry almost a whole show in itself. Burkett is pretty spectacular voicing every character especially when they go back and forth in conversations, and some of the details in the marionette's craft and movements are stunning.

The play itself didn't always quite work for me. I loved the dark subject matter and I loved the news clips that show the world in turmoil, but perhaps maybe my own politics clouded my view of the story. Watching the story of an old lady, already near her death (as well as several other older characters), didn't give the end-of-the-world quite the dramatic urgency as it should have. While it might have been interesting to denote how that generation aided in the worlds destruction, it never went that far in its commentary. There were some clever moments when Geppeto (yes, the one who created Pinnochio) creates a new puppet that has a stinging reflection on this new world, and when two neighbours from the south are satirized, but overall, the play felt a bit too soft on its characters. Biting but maybe not as biting enough, perhaps from all the expectations I've had built up before finally seeing a Burkett play.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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