Theatre: “10 Days on Earth”

Ronnie Burkett is a theatrical genius.

I first heard of him when he premiered Provenance in Edmonton a few years ago, but didn’t get out to see it because of the “hefty” $30 price of admission. Little did I know his talent, as showcased in a 120 minute production, is priceless.

Last night, a coworker and I watched a play titled 10 Days on Earth at the Roxy Theatre, acted entirely with marionettes. The flyer describes the show as follows:

“Darrel, a mentally challenged adult, doesn’t realize his mother has died in her sleep. For ten days straight he unknowingly lives alone, continuing his simple daily routine and daydreaming about his favorite storybook characters.”

Like most synopses of great art, words alone cannot do Burkett justice. At first, I had to adjust to the experience of watching puppets move about in place of live actors. But soon enough, I realized how imagination bridges the gap between you and the stage; you end up relating and empathizing even further with the marionettes because to believe the life being created out of wood and string, you have to invest a part of yourself that isn’t necessarily required with human performers. My heart broke as Darrel called in vain for his mum; as he peered expectantly at her still-shut door; as he sat, ever-patient, in the hallway, and waited. And because the faces of the puppets are unchanging, it was fascinating to notice the vital importance of body language. Every flicker, twitch, and jerk became a telling sign, a character trait. The marionettes are “simply, simply” mesmerizing.

You have to wonder how Burkett manages to perform this show night after night – it was exhausting just watching him maneuver over the numerous platforms, personally handling all two dozen puppets, and voicing all of the different characters, some that I was sure would lead to laryngitis. In any case, his sweat and tears made last night’s show unforgettable. I am already looking forward to his next stop in Edmonton. I encourage you to check out 10 Days; it runs until November 26.

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