Created and Performed by Ronnie Burkett
Ýat CanStage/Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs until March 6
26 Berkeley Street/416-368-3110 or

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg

Provenance is the new work by Ronnie Burkett, perhaps the only theatre artist in English-speaking Canada whose arrival in town generates an advance sale that rivals the most aggressively promoted of the Broadway-scale commercial variety. And the fact that he has earned this clout on the basis of his Theatre of Marionettes only adds to Burkettís unselfish celebrity. Though the current run is already sold out, and there is no word of any extension from CanStage, Iíd urge you to show up in the hope that a last minute cancellation works to your advantage. There were two empty seats beside me at the performance I attended.

Provenance concerns Miss Pity Beane, an average-looking young girl/woman from a rural background, and her obsession to understand what beauty can possibly mean in a world where its obvious definitions exclude her (and most of the rest of us). Raised by a homosexual father (now dead) and his lover, Uncle Boyfriend, the diminutive character makes her way to Paris and, later, to Vienna, where she finally discovers a painting that she had known previously (and over which she had shed tears and admitted desperate passions) from the pages of a book. This discovery provides her a cathartic understanding and acceptance of herself.ÝÝ

If this sounds as though the evening is strongly narrative, let me try to explain. Burkett, rarely one to set out on a path with clear direction, begins by introducing us to three characters, little Miss Beane among them, and from there the world rocks forward and backward in time with fragments of thought occasionally translated into secondary characters, both real and imagined. The language of his text is also a montage of poetry, abstracted reflections on personal sadness and painful longing, and wickedly observed Burkett-isms such as the monologue that our central girl/woman delivers about Beautiful Voices, the high school play that Mr. Garfinkle guided to its collective creation. (The audienceís laughter throughout this story was as much comic release as it was the recognition that Burkett wasnít abandoning his satiric edge altogether.)

Finally, Provenance is a meditation on self-acceptance. And what makes this work both fascinating and so important is that we are watching Burkett, the performer, starting to shed some of Burkett, the puppeteer. Or to try putting it more plainly, we spend the evening observing the artist at odds with his art. Provenance is the production in which Burkett has stepped forward as himself more often than in any other. It is also the first time that I have encountered him as a soloist for any sustained period. And in the spotlight without one of his creations in-hand, he appears to be working out just who he is and what his relationship might be to an audience of onlookers.

There are several extended passages in the evening that lose their way. And there are departures into lyricism that confuse far more than they elucidate. But the most special quality of Provenance is that we are being permitted the rare glimpse into a creative mindís journey that has no certain destination. And though expectation of his next installment is fascinating to consider, it is not knowing where he (and we) are headed that makes it an expectation filled with the kind of tension that begins to define the capacity of art.

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