Review: The Daisy Theatre

by Lynn on June 16, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs. Created and performed by Ronnie Burkett. Marionettes, Costumes and Set by Ronnie Burkett. Music and lyrics by John Alcorn.

From the programme note by Ronnie Burkett: “The Daisy Theatre” is an experiment in  returning puppetry to a more immediate, rough-and-tumble nightly entertainment, featuring a repertory company of diverse marionette characters in improv, variety number and audience interaction”

The Daisy Theatre of Ronnie Burkett echoes “the Daisy plays of Czech puppeteers during the Nazi occupation” in which pointed political comment and criticism of a tyrannical regime came from beloved characters embodied in the puppets. As Burkett notes, such puppeteers “were often run out of town for their observations.”

Fortunately Ronnie Burkett has not been run out of town for his outspoken comments and observations via his masterful marionettes. Instead he has enlightened, informed and entertained us with his exploration of such subjects as the Holocaust, political bullying and dictatorship; the mentally challenged and living in a volatile world, through his various productions.

The Daisy Theatre is no different. It plays every evening of Luminato in which the show will be different each night. I went for the first time last night and look forward to seeing how the show changes over the course of Luminato.

Burkett has created a cast of characters who ‘act’ in short skits that deal with a different aspect of Toronto, but in a subtle way. A song at the top of the show says it all. It’s about mischief that will take place and not to tell ‘your mother,’ ‘your brother’, ‘your priest.’ There is Lilly and her brother Lovey, two old-time actors who have been trodding the boards in the hinterlands of Canada for years, and now finally, have hit the big time in Toronto with The Daisy Theatre and a real, live audience. While both are ancient they both feel that with proper make-up and lighting, they can both get away with playing Romeo and Juliet. Lovey in particular is always dressed in preparation, no matter what the part or playwright. He wears formal tails on top in case he’s cast in a Noël Coward play and tights and those funny billowy shorts in case Shakespeare comes his way.

There’s a bully clown and his side-kick a downtrodden fairie who laments that he has no wings. He does have a flower growing from his head which makes him distinctive in an other way. The most poignant skit involved Edna Rural, a widow transplanted from her farm in Saskatchewan to Parkdale in Toronto. Burkett has written probably one of the most sensitive descriptions of ‘home’ and the immigrant experience I’ve ever heard. Beautiful and heartbreaking.

This being a rough-and-tumble evening, it’s full of Burkett’s asides, pointed comments, often political with references to local politics—you can guess who. It’s all quick, sharp and wildly funny.

There is some gentle audience participation in which folks are selected to help out with the marionettes. Last night Anwar was chosen to help a marionette play the piano and he was dandy and Rick was chosen to reveal one of the many surprises of the show. Equally as dandy.

Burkett has asked ten Canadian playwrights to write a ten minute skit in which one or two will be performed each night of Luminato. Last night I was lucky to see “Wedding Date” by Anusree Roy, a playwright with a distinctive voice that references Southeast Asia, but is also totally Canadian. A strict Asian father is grilling his totally Canadian daughter on the man she is going out with on her first date; checking to see if he comes from a good family, neighbourhood etc. Because of the father’s particular accent Anusree Roy read the part of the father and Burkett read the part of the daughter. Hilarious with all sorts of pre-conceptions and mind sets. I look forward to the others.

All this and John Alcorn sang. How perfect is that?

The Daisy Theatre performs June 16-23 at 9:30 pm at Luminato

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