Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Theater Review: The Oldest Boy

theater review, jungle theater, sarah ruhl, motherhood

The true story of the evening is that I didn't even really want to go. I'd been running around all day - driving to hockey and doing school work and lots of other stuff.  I felt harried and stressed.

But, I was meeting a friend and I'd purchased the tickets.

And lucky for me, The Jungle Theater is a beautiful building with a small, intimate theater. My row had lots of leg room, and I didn't even have to stand when people wanted to get by. As soon as I sat, I was happy I rallied.

The play begins, and the main character is a woman who could have been me. A white mother in a large city, she sits on the stage, meditating. Her nose itches. She's wiggling. She opens her eyes, sees the audience, and turns the whole operation around. With her back to us, she tries again. There are little bursts from the baby monitor. The mother stands and sighs; she determines the waking to be a false alarm. She flops on the couch, picks up a book, and pulls a secret stash of potato chips from behind a cushion.

We laugh. The doorbell rings. It's monks. "Maybe you're looking for my husband?" the woman asks. Her husband is Tibetan. He's in exile. The family is Buddhist. The monks are looking for the husband, but then again they aren't - they're really looking for the couple's three year-old son, the oldest boy. Tenzin, the monks believe, is a reincarnated lama - a high teacher. The boy should be educated in a monastery in India. He won't live anymore with his mother and father. The mother balks. The father says, "You can't just be Buddhist when it's convenient."

That's basically just the first 30 minutes. The rest of the story prompts you to think about this: to what extent do our children belong to us? To what extent are they people of the world, apart from us?

And the play is also about love and trust, teachers and teaching.

At the end, as I wiped away tears, I thought to myself that The Oldest Boy is the best play I've ever seen. I actually think it is.

To be fair, It might not be the best play you've ever seen, but it was perfect for me at the exact time I saw it.

And here's something extraordinary that I almost forgot to mention: the boy in the play is a puppet. The role is played by the puppet and an adult actor. It totally works, and it's not distracting at all. The puppet has a luminous face, and the interplay between it and its actor is lovely and moving.

If you live in Minneapolis, I think you should go see this show before it closes next week. And then, you should tell me if you liked it.

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