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Theatre Review: 10 Days on Earth

10 Days on Earth, the latest offering from legendary puppeteer and all-round artiste extraordinaire Ronnie Burkett, is the definition of creative decadence. It tells the poignant tale of a mentally challenged man whose mother has just passed away. For 10 days after her death, Darrell continues living in contented oblivion. Yet, slowly, clues that something may be amiss begin to seep into his consciousness, threatening to burst his distorted, yet curiously blissful, bubble of existence.

Reality, once insignificant phantom in Darrell's na誰ve world, soon becomes hawkish adversary, a menace which forces him to retreat further into his contrived oblivion. He seeks solace in a fantasy world, a happy, whimsical land inhabited by the characters from his favourite children's book. The sweetly simple story of a righteous dog and a cheeky baby duck struggling to find a place to call home features an all-star cast of Darrell's rich imagination including a scene-stealing Southern belle of a sheep. This land of make-believe, however, soon becomes his only ally in the desperate tussle against reality.

It is painful to watch Darrell struggle with the concept of death, and it will be plagued with a feeling of utter helplessness that you do so. With his mother gone, the little that Darrell has ever known begins to slip away from him. It is impossible to sit back and relax at any point in the near two-hour production, as you watch, breath bated and stomach knotted, dreading the moment when reality finally, well, becomes real for the child in a man's body. Disorientation, a key figure in Darrell's view of the world, is now compounded by the absence of meaning of any sort. With his lone rock gone, Darrell is left devastated and so very, very alone.

The wooden marionettes of 10 Days are exquisitely crafted but the most amazing part of the production, however, is Burkett himself. Flamboyant, fashion conscious rat one minute and then deranged homeless man the next, Burkett is the oomph behind every character, and he nails them all. His range and ability is fascinating, and to watch one of his shows is to see a living legend at work. Although Burkette watches over the entire set with God-like authority, he is also each and every member of the cast--he orchestrates each move and articulates each line.

"But aren't these just puppets?" skeptics ask. "How can one get so emotionally involved with wooden figures on string?" Little do you know, dear wary worrywarts of the theatre-going variety. Through movement--Burkett manipulates his wooden creations with mind boggling dexterity--the characters come to life; then, through speech, the talented actor infuses each character with soul.

10 Days on Earth strikes a chord somewhere in the depths down there. Richly imaginative and surprisingly profound, this tender piece from a Canadian theatre legend is not to be missed. Currently basking in the critical hurrahs racked up since its world premiere in April, the play continues at CanStage Berkeley through June 24.

What: 10 Days on Earth
Where: CanStage Berkeley (27 Front Street E)
When: Monday - Saturday until June 26, 8:00pm
Cost: $36 to 51
For more info: 416-368-3110 or www.canstage.com
Psst: Rush seats (50 percent off regular price) are available for any performance one hour prior to show time. Monday is PWYC night, available in person from the box office starting at 10am on the day of the performance.


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