Thursday, October 1, 2015

I'm your puppet: Ronnie Burkett's marionettes at BAC

The actor Lovey Lunkhead (above)
and his creator, Ronnie Burkett (below)
in The Daisy Theatre
(photos: Hiroyuki Ito)

From the look and, especially, the sound of things at Baryshnikov Arts Center last evening, Canadian puppeteer extraordinaire Ronnie Burkett has a legion of south-of-the-border fans. And now he has one more, because I love him.

That's not too extreme a position to take, given how Burkett seeks to wring every bit of love and laughter out of audiences for his Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, putting a positive spin on the word manipulation.

The New York premiere of The Daisy Theatre stars a handful of Burkett's forty finely-designed creations--a motley crew who are impossible to resist--in acts ranging from burlesque to opera. Improvised around each marionette's personality and John Alcorn's loopy songs, the show has elastic tendencies. Performed without intermission, it can stretch from ninety minutes to two hours, depending upon how much fun Burkett is having with his marionettes, with volunteers from his audience and with the serendipity of any given moment.

Burkett indulges himself, and us, because he is a child. He is a happy child, standing up there on the bridge, deftly working the control bars and wires that give his marionettes uncanny, supple life. With his own marionette-like jaw, resplendent smile and maniacal, motormouth voice, he resembles someone from his nomadic tribe of performers. Or the Second Coming of Robin Williams. In fact, if you find yourself gazing up at Burkett about as much as you watch the marionettes acting out below, you would not be wrong--or alone. He's a huge, huge part of the show.

Burkett and his rotating cast of characters
(photo: Hiroyuki Ito)

Steeped in fearless queer attitude, profane language and racy innuendo, The Daisy Theatre ain't puppetry for tots, and anyone under 16 will not be admitted. But anyone over 16 will enjoy the likes of sweet, yearning "fairy child" Schnitzel (a stand-in for Burkett's inner child, I suspect) and Las Vegas belter Rosemary Focaccia, a-shimmy in fringe dress and knee-high boots, hair-trigger rage and foul mouth out of all proportion ("I know people, Baryshnikov! Don't cross me!!"). An eerie segment featuring marionette Meyer Lemon--an ancient master ventriloquist--and his dummy stood out for near-literary, surreal quality and Burkett's exacting skill.

Acclaimed ventriloquist Meyer Lemon takes the spotlight.
(photo: Hiroyuki Ito)

I have no idea who--among all forty of the possible players--will perform when you see The Daisy Theatre and what they'll be up to. You'll be, in Burkett's words, one of the "poor bastards sitting in the dark not knowing what happens next."

How exhilarating!

Remaining performances:

Tonight, October 1, 7:30pm
Friday-Saturday, October 2-3, 8pm
Wednesday-Saturday, October 7-10, 8pm

Ronnie Burkett in Conversation:

A conversation with Ronnie Burkett and Kristy Edmunds of Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA will be held in BAC's Jerome Robbins Theater on Monday, October 5 at 6:30pm. Reservations are not required.

Jerome Robbins Theater
Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 West 37th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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