Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Review
Street of Blood
This New York Theatre Workshop production is part of our coverage of the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater. For more details and reports go here
Now, I'm not an actress.
Lord love a duck no!
I'm no one special.
I'm just a silly old biddy in a Sears housedress. . .
just like you
--Edna Rural. . . housewife, quilter, and survivor of an epic family drama
Edna may call herself ordinary, but she is one of the most extraordinarily human creations I've ever seen dangling from a puppeteer's string. Standing about two feet tall, and plump enough to fully occupy the over-sized armchair of her Turnip Corners farmhouse living room, Edna is the central character of Ronnie Burkett's marionette drama, Street of Blood. That living room in Canada's equivalent of the bible belt, is one of three ingeniously constructed box sets that fill the wide stage and, like the marionettes and costumes, is designed by the multi-talented Burkett.
To live up to its tag as a prairie gothic epic, Edna's story takes us from 1924 to the present. Besides Edna, Mr. Burkett has created more than a dozen other finely detailed and amazingly human marionette characters to dangle from the strings he manipulates as he hovers over them like a gentle giant. Chief among them is Edna's homosexual son Eden Urbane and the film star-turned-vampire, Esme Massengill, about whom he's obsessed all his life.
The play, and mind you this is a full-fledged play, is not your usual fun for the whole family marionettes show. It starts off innocently and enchantingly enough with the members of the Turnip Corners Ladies Orchestrale wending their way to the toy instruments at either side of the stage. Edna, like a less glamorous version of Australia's Dame Edna, reminds us to turn off our "ringers" and "go for a piddle" since it's a long show without intermission. From that caveat it's on to a sing-along of the Canadian anthem and some outrageous commentary on the British royals. But, while humor is interspersed throughout, the hokey heroine and setting are Burkett's dramatic handle for getting into the more serious topics implicit in the title: blood lust and blood mishandling, celebrity worship, religion and AIDS. What's more, not content to create, manipulate and act as each character's voice, the puppet master gets into the action himself, in one mesmerizing scene near the end, as no less than Jesus Christ.
The trouble with Burkett's tour-de-force is that he's a better actor and master craftsman than playwright. While much of what we see is enthralling, at two hours and fifteen minutes, the play stumbles into numbing repetition. As Burkett was willing to have another "real" person, his stage manager Terri Gillis, lend a hand, he should have allowed an editor to apply a blue pencil to the excesses. As things stand, by the time we're into the second hour, enchantment teeters into ennui. Still, Street of Blood is a unique enough experience to warrant more hurrahs than ho-hums, especially if you've never experienced the potential of puppetry as full-fledged theater.