Toronto
2 min

Pandemonium prairie

Gay epic pulls at our heart strings

SENSATIONAL. Though the writing falters in Street Of Blood, Ronnie Burkett's puppet play about Eden Urbane and Edna Rural is still a non-stop treat for the senses. Credit: Trudie Lee

Street Of Blood, playing at Canadian Stage, involves 39 marionettes and 14 characters. There’s murder, vampires, puppet abuse, terrorists, movies stars and Jesus. To top it off, the show runs two hours and 15 minutes with no intermission (so make sure to take a tinkle before you sit down).



What is most remarkable about this puppet show is the delivery – every subtle tug of the string, every word spoken is performed by one person, Ronnie Burkett.



Street Of Blood is set in the small prairie town of Turnip Corners, a place as appetizing as its name. The central character, Edna Rural, is a typical Albertan widow of farming extraction who leads a very unconventional life. The story begins with her making a quilt. She cuts her finger and, to her, the blood stain resembles the son of God.



Meanwhile, her adopted queer son, Eden Urbane, is planning to come home. He sings karaoke in hospices and hospital wings and takes out his ever-present rage through terrorist bombing attacks.



Then there is Esme Massengill, a has-been Hollywood starlet-turned-vampire. She arrives in Turnip Corners to launch her come-back in a new stage musical in which she plays the Virgin Mary. Both Eden and his mom are crazy about Massengill. They have watched her reruns on TV for decades.



And that’s just the start….



This show has more plot twists and melodrama than five Melrose season finales. Its strength rises out of Burkett’s well-crafted and well-hung puppets. These two-foot characters are mesmerizing and Burkett’s graceful string movements and voice characterizations really bring out something very extraordinary.



Many will begin the show watching Burkett and his technique. But by the end, the puppets take on a life of their own. They are sweet, chilling, violent and vulnerable.



There is no doubt that the puppets are what really keeps the show interesting and strong. Burkett’s themes are grand, but not particularly fresh or refined. “Revenge will get you nowhere” and “Love, not blood, makes a family” are two of the lessons to be learned. Burkett’s writing can feel more precious than profound.



In the end, these small misgivings are overshadowed by the sheer endurance of Burkett. He runs a creative marathon every night that would leave any artist – or athlete – in awe.



Some gay men may love the wise-cracking, bitter and witty starlet, Esmé Massengill. She does have a few good lines, but her character does not fully develop.



It is Edna Rural who really steals the show. Strong willed and sweet, she is instantly likeable. You can’t help but root for her and her naive ways the whole time.



Though this puppet epic may have a few story hang-ups, the experience of watching a fine craftsman do his thing is enough to make this a real treat for the senses.



Street Of Blood.

$32-$40. Till Sat, Oct 23.

Canadian Stage.

26 Berkeley St.

(416) 368-3110.