I am not an eloquent person. Even so, when a person asks me how I liked a show I can say some things. I can point out a beautiful moment in a performance, an unexpected prop or set design, or thoughts on the general message I feel the show is sending. For some reason, though, my ability to articulate seems to go out the window with a show I truly love. My “thoughts” end up being something along the likes of “Oh! [insert show title] was so good!” followed by a series of sounds that sound rather anguished. When I was tasked with writing about a show from the 2016/2017 season that really moved me I was suddenly faced with the challenge of translating those anguished squawks into coherent sentences. Can it be done? I aim to find out.
Choosing a single show to write about was challenging within it self. There were six “finalists” out of the 79 I saw and I feel the need to give a shout out to them all. The Venetian Twins by Theatre Forever, A Life-Size Dialogue with the Moon by Labrador Theatre, Marie Antoinette by Walking Shadow, Vietgone by Mixed Blood, and On The Exhale by Market Garden Theatre all succeeded in turning my words into gibberish. Thank you to all of these shows for the rare blessing of speechlessness.
My goal for this article is to write about one show in particular. I chose this one out of the many because I find the idea of writing about it most daunting. Frankly it terrifies me (which is usually a sign that it must be done). The show I am speaking of is The Oldest Boy, which was done at The Jungle Theatre. Every time I think of this production it results in a physical reaction. I find myself taking a deep breath, my chest feels full, my eyes tear up, and my heart feels a yearning to experience the production again. Of course now I am kicking myself for not writing down every detail I loved about the show for I no longer fully understand why I have this reaction. It has transformed into bliss in my mind.
Lets see if I can summaries this plot. The Oldest Boy, written by Sarah Ruhl, follows the journey of a woman whose two-year-old child (represented by a puppet) is discovered to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan Buddhist lama. Together with her husband, a Tibetan exile, they must decide if they will keep their son with them in the U.S.A. or allow him to go train in India with the rest of the Tibetan exiles. It touches on what one does when love comes at inconvenient times, the importance of teachers, and finding one’s own spiritual journey.
The Jungle Theatre’s production, which was directed by Sarah Rasmussen, was spectacularly done: the acting, the sets, the costumes, the movement, the puppetry, the symbolism, everything was simply flawless. Which might be why I can’t think of anything to say about it. Everything flowed so well and served the story. There were no divas in this play, no one particular aspect I can point out as outstanding because nothing “stood out”. Everything blended into perfection.
As a result of this cohesion of artistic elements, most of my thoughts on why this play affected me are vague feelings rather than concrete things. I guess the solution is to delve into these emotions and try to pick out what caused them.
The strongest emotion may not sound like an emotion at all, but the feeling is real (and I am sure there are many people who would agree with me). That emotion is maternal. I feel maternal feelings when thinking about this play. The story is, after all, about a mother (represented exquisitely by Christina Baldwin). I am not a mother, but I have to believe that there is something universal about motherhood. The emotional struggle of this play is a maternal one. What is the motherly choice? What is truly best for your son and his people? I hope to God I never have to make such a decision. I am also so glad that this isn’t a representation of the stereotypical idea of motherhood that is often seen on stage. This was raw motherhood, heck there was a live childbirth! This Mother is strong yet weak, sure yet unsure, and so filled with love and care. Beautiful.
The second strongest emotion is passion, and I know exactly where this stems from. One of my great loves in life is religion. I adore religions, all of them. I see a clear distinction between what humans do to a religion, and what the religion is meant to do, which is probably why I love them a so much. Humans cannot tarnish my opinion of them. Religion is a topic that is very rarely touched on the stage. This is excluding expressively “religious” forms of theatre such as theatre done at a Church or for missions purposes. Of course I have not seen every “secular” show that deals with religion, but most that I have seen do not have positive things to say about that religion. This is part of the reason why I find the story of religion within The Oldest Boy so refreshing. We see the Mother struggle with the religion she is seeking to adopt as her own, and yet she chooses it anyways. The journey isn’t perfect, nor is the outcome, but she takes it on it with hope and with grace. What a beautiful and joyful thing to see!
There are so many emotions, and so many elements of the play I adore. I didn’t even mention that I am in love with puppets and how they can be used in mysterious ways to communicate the spiritual realm. The beauty of it all is overwhelming. I guess in the end the main emotion I feel is awe. This production still has me in a state of awe and I am deeply grateful to the cast and crew for the experience. Thank you.