01/24/2012 05:05 EST | Updated 03/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Apocalyptic puppet show an unlikely hit

Penny Plain, a marionette show about the end of the world, opens in Toronto on Tuesday after winning rave reviews in Alberta and breaking a box-office record in Vancouver.

It's the latest production from Alberta-born Ronnie Burkett, an acclaimed puppeteer with an international reputation.

The play opened in Alberta last fall before moving to British Columbia. It will head to Ottawa and Montreal next, after a stint in Toronto where tickets have been selling fast in spite of the dark terrain Burkett covers in the play.

"It's kind of my love letter to the earth in a weird way, even though it's about the last three days of civilization," Burkett says. "So I'm not introducing new information. It's just a way of saying we all know we're perilously close to something here."

The story of humanity's undoing is told from the living room of Penny Plain, an 80-year-old blind woman who likes to chat with her seeing-eye dog, Jeffrey.

Other characters come and go — all of whom are voiced and operated by Burkett — and through their reactions the audience learns what is befalling the world outside.

Burkett says the play grew out of a comment by environmentalist David Suzuki that the planet will survive, but not mankind.

However there's plenty of humour to boot — and hope, Burkett says.

The beauty of the marionettes, the music and the set remind us that "this planet is actually heaven on earth, so let's just be a little aware of how we treat this paradise," he says.