Happy, the latest creation by marionette artist Ronnie Burkett, has been extended before it even begins Jan. 20 at the Canadian Stage Company's Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto.
The CanStage engagement was to continue to Feb. 17, but was extended after 80 percent of the tickets to the run were sold. The unique show created and performed by Burkett now runs to March 3. The unique theatre piece had its world premiere in 2000 at the du Maurier World Stage Festival.
Created and performed by Burkett, Happy, the newest concoction from the Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, focuses on the title character, a happy-go-lucky veteran who wanders through episodes of grief in other people's lives. Writer-performer Burkett "examines the impact of cataclysmic sorrow in human existence and the on-going discussion of whether happiness is the lucky domain of a select few or the result of constant struggle and striving beyond the layers of human despair," according to production notes. Preview performances play Canadian Stage Company's Berkeley Street Theatre Jan. 20-24, with an official Jan. 25.
Burkett's Street of Blood, which told of small-town Canadian characters caught up in the AIDS crisis — with themes of corruption, evil, hope and redemption running through its veins — played Off-Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop in 2000 following popular engagements in Canada. On Jan. 16 Street of Blood was nominated for a 2000 GLAAD Media Award by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
"Not since Street of Blood...have we seen such an incredible response and demand for tickets," CanStage artistic producer Martin Bragg said in a statement. "Happy has sold over 80 percent of the available tickets at Berkeley Street and we are very lucky Ronnie was available to extend the run by two weeks." This can be the only extension of Happy. The CanStage production of Patrick Marber's Closer begins performances at the Berkeley Street Theatre March 12. *
Concurrent with the storyline presented by the character of Happy is the "grief vaudeville" of Antoine Marionette, a campy, other-worldly master of ceremonies. "Within this glittering silver realm — 'the gray area of life' — arch presentations of sadness in song, pantomime and burlesque,mirror and parody the state of the central characters," according to production notes.
Burkett was seven when he discovered puppetry through an article in the World Book Encyclopedia and "The Lonely Goatherd" sequence in the film, "The Sound of Music." His lifelong fascination led him to apprenticeships with leading American puppeteers, and he began touring his own productions at the age of 14. He formed Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes in 1986 and has been touring the world ever since with such critically acclaimed productions as Fool's Edge, Virtue Falls, The Punch Club, Awful Manors, Tinka's New Dress and Old Friends.
He has won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the major Toronto theatre award. He received a special citation 1999 Obie Award when Tinka's New Dress was presented Off-Broadway at The Public Theater by the Henson International Festival of Puppetry.
In Happy, Burkett collaborates with composer and sound designer Cathy Nosaty. Visually, the show is expected to be more striking and starker in design than previous Theatre of Marionettes productions. The show will feature "reversed neutrals" with an all-white set which will be painted with color by acclaimed lighting designer Bill Williams.
Happy is a Rink-A-Dink Inc. production created in coproduction with Harbourfront Centre, Toronto and Theaterformen 2000, Hannover and The Barbican Centre, London.
Tickets are $20-$40. CanStage Berkeley Street Theatre is at 26 Berkeley Street in Toronto. For information, call (416) 872 1111 or visit the website at www.canstage.com.
— By Kenneth Jones