4.25 Those Damn Puppets


Puppets. Those damn puppets. Gets me every time. Let me explain. I went to see the renowned puppeteer Ronnie Burkett's latest production called The Daisy Theatre. It's the third show I've seen of his and I can't really explain it without coming off sounding a little nuts. What do you think of when you think of puppets? Exactly, right? These aren't those kinds of puppets. So, I'm sitting in the theatre, yes, alone, cause I'm the kind of guy who doesn't mind going to shows alone. Sure, I picked a seat up on the balcony, in the last row at the end of the row so I would at least have no one on one side of me. That doesn't mean I am not secure enough to go alone. Plus, I was doing research for a potential upcoming guest on the podcast, wink wink, nudge nudge. I'm sitting there taking some notes, when a rather large man sat beside me. The first thing he said to his wife was, "I learned to tell time today." There was a long pause. He went on to explain his language lesson and how he views it as a giant mental mountain that he's climbing for the challenge. I was annoyed in a playful way, which was better than before when I would get annoyed in an angry way. Annoyed because I can't help eavesdropping on other people's mundane conversations, especially as he went on saying, "We gotta be careful up here, we don't want to fall off the balcony. Hey, remember when I fell over the couch?" He didn't fall off the couch or on to the couch, he fell over the couch. I can't make this stuff up. He said this and I immediately started scribbling it down so I could include it here and he caught me doing it. The lights went down and I was saved.

Here's the thing with Burkett: his puppets become real. At some point, you forget you're watching puppets and your gaze moves from him operating them down to the stage within a stage. He breathes life into to them. The play was written by a few different writers and was more of a cabaret of scenes. There were songs, dances and monologues.

One scene was about an aging actor starving for attention. With a little audience participation, the actor wanted to come on stage and wanted us to nudge nudge, wink wink our neighbour and say, "Is that who I think it is?" And erupt into cheering. We did it once and the actor didn't like it, so we had to do it again. I hate audience participation. Feels like church. But I was having such a great time and the play was so engaging that I nudged nudged my chubby friend sitting beside me who apparently fell over a couch. I found his ribs with my elbow and nudged nudged the shit out of his side. We even looked at each other and winked.

Towards the end of the play, an elderly character came out and sat on a big comfy chair. She told us a story about how she recently moved from Alberta to Toronto. Her husband died and she became a vegetarian and decided to move to the city. She talked about still talking to her dead husband because she had so much to tell him - all the great new experiences in her new home. But she realized that her memory was fading and she was losing sight of her husband in her mind. One night, she got lost and ended up at a building with a red door. She went through the door and into a nightclub, sat down and ordered a glass of wine and waited for her husband to join her. She held out her hand, waiting for her husband to take it, but he never did. The last thing she said was, "There are some memories I am so afraid of losing." And then two guys - one with a stand up bass, the other singing - played a slow jazzy song about lost memories.

Killed me. Totally slayed me. I remembered that I brought two ex-girlfriends to two different Burkett shows. One right in this theatre, sitting where I was sitting in the back row of the balcony. I thought of both those people and I missed them, I missed them so intensely that I instantly started crying real goddamn tears, tears like ones that I hadn't seen in a long time. Maybe it was all this talk of memories, maybe it was just the talk of the loss of someone, maybe it was winking and nudging the chubby guy beside me, knowing he was there in the dark but couldn't see me. Whatever triggered it, doesn't matter. What matters is that it needed to happen, Jesus, can't hold that stuff inside. Does no good inside. I just saw these two people, and no matter what happened in the past, whatever bad stuff, it didn't matter, hell, I wasn't even thinking nostalgically about the good times, just that for a short span of time I had these people in my life. They were good people. I didn't think about it as a loss, more of a gain. I didn't care about any of the bad stuff that happened. I just remembered who those people were when they sat next to me in this theatre. And it was good and I felt like I was there with them again, if only for a brief time.

After the song was over and I started composing myself, I stopped myself from composing. I figured, what the hell, no one can see me, cry you son of a bitch cry. So I did. And I thought that isn't this a marvelous thing, that if this same state struck me and I needed to cry, it's too sad for me to cry at home alone. But here in a darkened theatre around people, sitting next to a total stranger who I winked at and whose midsection I am a little too familiar with, here with other people suspending our belief and getting ordered around by a bunch of damn puppets, here I could be alone around other people but feel connected and comfortable enough to do something I couldn't bring myself to do at home with no one watching. Here in the dark, we are all the same. We are all connected through these damn puppets.

At the end of the show, an infantile character is going off to sleep. He was so real in his movements, the voice so sensitive and inviting, that when the puppet - the puppet - said, "Goodnight!" the entire audience of grown adults replied, wishing the puppet an equally good night. I think the puppets are a litmus test. You don't like the puppets, we can't be friends.