Review: FORGET ME NOT (part of Luminato)

by Lynn on June 19, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre

Created and performed by Ronnie Burkett

Music composed by John Alcorn

Dramaturge, Matt McGeachy

Puppets designed and created by Ronnie Burkett

Costumes by Kim Crossley

A new Ronnie Burkett show is cause for anticipation, certainly because he hasn’t played Toronto in a few years. It’s been too long.

Forget Me Not is Burkett’s latest show and it is his most ambitious. It takes place in the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre and at the best of times, when there is proper seating, it’s vast. For Forget Me Not the room is bare except for some benches in a semi circular configuration, with the occasional chair scattered around the benches at one end of the space. That makes the space seem even larger.

We are allowed in the space at 7 pm which should have been show-time. We leave our backpacks etc. at tables close to the entrance then wend our way to the other end of the space for a seat on a bench or a chair. We are told that the audience will be moving around the space during the show. At 7:10 pm the door at the other end of the room opens and a large-cloaked, hooded figure slowly walks to our end, reciting a story in rhyming couplets about a knight and a fair maiden. As the person gets nearer we see that the face is obscured by a black veil. He is our narrator. He is Ronnie Burkett.

With a few passes around the benches and the chairs Ronnie Burkett takes off the cloak and reveals himself in khaki pants, a black shirt and shoes. The puppets he uses appear from a large wood structure. Many are hand puppets, some are marionettes manipulated by wire.

He gives willing audience members a hand puppet with the understanding they will take care of it and give it back at the end, or if they don’t it will prevent the show from ‘being true.’ One daren’t disappoint him by keeping the beautifully made puppets.

The audience raises their hands, some with the puppets when asked. Nearly the whole audience participates by following him around the space like a pied piper with his followings, and engaging in the activities that are suggested by Burkett. But one wonders what is to be gained by involving the audience in this way? Are they part of the dark world?

From the press information: “Welcome to “The New Now”, where written words are forbidden and an underground movement of hand-drawn love letters is a powerful act of defiance.  

Those determined on composing or reading a written declaration of love must first make a treacherous journey to a secret and illegal camp to find She, The Keeper of the Lost Hand, and one of the last people to retain the knowledge of reading and writing in cursive.  

While pilgrims brave the harsh conditions to find their way to She, the tale of Zacko Budaydos and His Dancing Bear unfolds in parallel, illustrating the turmoil of “The Before” when all the travelling performer had to rely on was his wit, love and knowledge of the outlawed language of Polari to survive.   

Unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Forget Me Not is a tender, absurd, romantic, and provocative call-to-arms for poetry and the enduring power of love.”

And for all Burkett’s mastery and artistry of the puppets etc. this story is so confusing that one tends to lose the thread too often. It doesn’t help that the space is unforgiving. The acoustics are lousy if Burkett is facing away from you. You can’t hear what he’s saying. And while Burkett has a dramaturge in Matt McGeachy the piece needs judicious cutting to tame the meandering story and focus the intent. It’s a problem I have found with a lot of his shows, masterful though they are. At times there are conversations between characters that seem like an endless loop of one accusing and the other denying something and moving forward seems impossible.

As with all Ronnie Burkett shows, Forget Me Not is funny, dark in nature, thoughtful, brooding and full of Burkett’s conscience and heart. I just wish it was clearer.

Produced by Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes

Opened: June 5, 2019.

Closes: June 23, 2019.

Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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