Los Angeles Theater Review: PENNY PLAIN (Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes at UCLA)

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by Tom Chaits on January 17, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


A worldwide pandemic has already claimed the lives of hundreds of millions of humans and the apocalypse is near.  An intriguing plot line to be sure but hardly one you would associate with a puppet show. Rest assured, Penny Plain, currently stringing audiences along at UCLA’s Little Theater, is no ordinary puppet show. In Oliver & Tuppence from PENNY PLAIN by Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettesthe gifted hands of Canada’s maestro of the marionette, Ronnie Burkett, Penny Plain is a brilliant, provocative, dramatic, humorous, poignant, insightful, involving, and mesmerizing evening of theater.

Doom and gloom booms from the television as we meet an elderly blind woman, Penny Plain, and Jeffrey, her canine companion. In mankind’s final moments, Jeffrey has decided to leave Penny to spend what remains of his life as a dog. Loyal to the end, he has arranged for a number of suitable replacements for Penny to interview. As she sits in her overstuffed chair in her boarding house we are introduced to several talking dogs, a crazed wannabe mother, a cross-dressing banker, a mother/daughter scream team, Geppetto (of Pinocchio fame), and several other mysterious strangers seeking sanctuary. Their interaction takes the viewer on a journey that will not soon be forgotten.

Queenie from PENNY PLAIN by Ronnie Burkett Theatre of MarionettesMr. Burkett is a genius. He has not only designed and created each of the puppets, he also wrote the script and singlehandedly operates and gives voice to each of the characters. His craftsmanship is spectacular. He has imbued each of his creations with such intense humanity that the strings seem to disappear before your very eyes, transforming the marionettes into living breathing entities. He is visible throughout the experience, hovering above the action like a deity tending to his flock.

The script is nothing short of a searing indictment of the human condition that yields the power to have you laughing uncontrollably one moment and then stabbing you through the heart the next. Mankind it all its splendor and squalor is on clear display slapping the viewer in the face with the realities of life. It’s an incredible achievement.

It’s hard to believe that this is the first time a talent of this magnitude has played Los Angeles and you should consider yourself lucky if you manage to score a ticket to this very limited run. This is life, love, and longing in living color with strings attached and Penny Plain is not to be missed.

Penny Plain and her canine companion Geoffrey from PENNY PLAIN by Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes

photos by Trudie Lee

Penny Plain
Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes
presented by Center for the Art of Performance/UCLA
Little Theater in Macgowan Hall on the UCLA campus
ends on January 19, 2014
for tickets, call 310.825.2101 or visit CAP UCLA

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