Photo Courtesy: UCLA Center for the Art of Performance
Photo Courtesy: UCLA Center for the Art of Performance
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Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes: The Daisy Theatre


Reviewed by Deborah Klugman

UCLA Center for the Art of Performance at the Actors Gang Theatre



Master marionettiste Ronnie Burkett pays homage to vaudeville and its indefatigable performers in his latest piece, which played all too briefly this past week as part of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance Program. The name Daisy Theatre derives inspiration from the underground puppet cabarets that flourished in Prague during the Nazi Occupation.


While other of Burkett’s pieces have had plots with political or apocalyptic overtones, his newest work is structured as a series of sketches with singing, improvisation and audience participation. Each performance is different. The show I saw began with Burkett soliciting the audience’s preference for one of two opening striptease acts: We could choose, by a show of applause, between a farm girl stripper and a Latina, Ms. Flirty Sanchez. (The latter won and, as promised, proceeded to sing and disrobe.)


One of the wryest acts involved an aging ventriloquist slumped somnolently in his chair while his motor-mouth dummy babbled non-stop.


Burkett’s edgiest sketch featured Esmé Massengill, a drunken, aging diva who interacted with a male audience member. At Esmé’s direction, he donned a faux pair of manacles and submitted to her, while she danced on his torso, at times pressing up against his lips and maneuvering beneath his belt.


Tastes vary, and while I probably would have preferred an actual story, I could not help but be awed by the scope of Burkett’s talent.  Besides the vocals, in which he’s supported by musician and sound designer John Alcorn, there’s the artistry of the puppets themselves (fabulously costumed by Kim Crossley), Burkett’s dynamism and voluminous energy, and the writing, which goes to the heart of a brash, hopeful and absurd human experience.


UCLA Center for the Art of Performance at Actors Gang Theatre. Closed.