Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Oldest Boy at the Jungle Theater

Did you know that this production of The Oldest Boy marks the first time an Asian man has been on stage at the Jungle Theater?

True story. Just sit with that a second.

Tsering Dorjee Bawa, Masanari Kawahara and
Eric "Pogi" Sumangil (photo by Dan Norman)
Once that has sunk in, let's celebrate the fact that Sarah Rasmussen is dedicated to creating a new Jungle Theater. This past season has featured a female and racially diverse cast Two Gentlemen of Verona, a hilarious and sweet new play about gay marriage (Le Switch), and Bars and Measures, which tackled issues of prison, terrorism, Islam and brotherhood. 

The 2016 season ends with The Oldest Boy, a play by Sarah Ruhl that depicts a family whose young son is believed to be a reincarnated Tibetan lama.
Masanari Kawahara's gorgeous "Oldest Boy" puppet

As the unnamed mother, Christina Baldwin is heartrending. She tells the story of meeting her Tibetan husband (Randy Reyes) in his restaurant, the family disapproval they faced, and the courthouse wedding they had when she was already pregnant. She dotes on three-year-old Tenzin, who is played by master puppeteer Masanari Kawahara and the amazingly lifelike puppet he created of the boy. (We've admired his compelling work in Crow Boy at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.)

The puppet and puppeteer, as playwright Ruhl intended, allow Tenzin to be both small and childlike and then wise and worldly as he recalls his past existence.

As the monks who come to find the lama, Eric "Pogi" Sumangil is charmingly cheery, while Tsering Dorjee Bawa is more serious, but with a smile that lights the room when he recognizes the boy as his old friend.

Bawa also served as cultural consultant for this production, providing guidance on Tibetan language, music, and tradition, which he also did for the original Lincoln Center Theater production of the show. His contribution here is amazing, for the play touches on cultural and religious traditions that we have not seen portrayed on a Minnesota stage. The authenticity also means that we can really identify with the mother as she considers whether to send her son to a monastery in India to be educated.

Director Sarah Rasmussen stages the show beautifully, allowing the love, fear, and hope to emanate from the stage. It's a wonderful production of a terrific, thoughtful show that challenges us to consider the cultural context of the lives around us in a deep way. This might be our only chance to experience this work, and I can't imagine a better production, so please do not miss The Oldest Boy - it runs now through December 18.

The Jungle Theater provides a host of fascinating information to add to the audience experience. The program includes selections from Sarah Ruhl's Afterward of The Oldest Boy, which immediate tackles two intriguing questions: "How did a Catholic white girl from Illinois come to write about Tibetan Buddhism?" and "Why puppets?" Also, they offer a number of opportunities to explore the play in depth with their Come Early, Stay Late series.

The night we attended the play, the post-play discussion centered on Creating Cross-Cultural Theater, led by Artistic Associate Katherine Pardue and featuring Sarah Rasmussen, Noel Raymond and Randy Reyes. It was a fascinating discussion that touched on a number of current and compelling facets of theater and culture--I hated to see the conversation end. (Twin Cities Theater Bloggers, let's keep this in mind for future discussions!)

Come Early, Stay Late Upcoming Conversations:
Storytelling Through Puppetry with Masanari Kawahara - December 1
Traditional Tibetan Music & Dance with Tsering Dorjee Bawa and Yeshi Samdup - December 8
The Politics and Culture of Tibet & The Diaspora with Tsering Dorjee Bawa - December 15
Remember, you don't need a ticket to these performances to attend the discussions.

Plus, Books!
Also, check out the fabulous #JungleReads list of suggested reading in partnership with Magers & Quinn Booksellers. Hot Tip: If you bring your #junglereads Magers & Quinn receipt to the theater, you'll get a free beverage at concessions. Win/win!