The Oldest Boy, by Sarah Ruhl, currently playing at the Jungle Theater, is a beautiful story about culture, faith and family. The story centers on an American family, comprised of a white American mother, a Tibetan father and their son Tenzin. When Tenzin is nearing his third birthday Tibetan Monks arrive at their doorstep announcing that Tenzin is the reincarnation of a High Lama, who was one of the monk’s teachers. The monks want to take the boy to India for his spiritual training, but leave the choice in the parent's hands. Throughout the play we see the family struggling with this request and their decision. We also revisit the story of how the mother and the father met, which provides an different lens through which to view the sacrifice that comes with love and family. Throughout the play there are interesting conversations about parenting, religion, family, sacrifice, and the importance and value of teacher/student relationships.
Tsering Dorjee Bawa, Masanari Kawahara and Eric “Pogi” Sumangil in The Oldest Boy. Photo Credit Dan Norman.
At the center of the play is the Tibetan culture and the Buddhist faith. These are concepts that are foreign to most Minnesotan audience members, but Mother, performed sincerely by Christina Baldwin, serves as a good entry point for the audience as she herself is learning about and growing in the faith. The play handles the Tibetan culture beautifully, utilizing music and incorporating a dance scene in the second act that is entirely engrossing. The care that the play takes in respecting the Tibetan culture is apparent. Tsering Dorjee Bawa who played a Monk also served as the cultural consultant.
Visually the play is stunning, the detailed sets by Mina Kinukawa place the audience in the living room of an American house and in a monastery in India. The look could not have be complete without the puppet representing Tenzin, who was both designed and controlled by Masanari Kawahara. The visual beauty and balance of the play was able to carry the beauty and balance of the story itself, culminating in an ending that sent shivers up my spine.
The Oldest Boy is a beautiful and transporting play that is currently playing until the Jungle Theater until December 18.