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Paulanne Simmons

"The Oldest Boy"

"The Oldest Boy"
Directed by Rebecca Teichman
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater
150 West 65 Street
Opened Nov. 3, 2014
Tickets: $85 (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com
Closes Dec. 28, 2014
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 5, 2014

Celia Keenan-Bolger and the company of "The Oldest Boy." Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Whatever religion you are, there’s a good chance that by the end of Sarah Ruhl’s "The Oldest Boy" you will seriously consider becoming a Buddhist.

Directed by Rebecca Taichman, the show features the luminous Celia Keenan-Bolger as a young mother, a Cincinnati native and former doctoral candidate married to a Tibetan (James Yaegashi) who manages a Tibetan restaurant. The couple live a not terribly extraordinary life in an unnamed American city.

But at the beginning of the play, the mother receives two visitors, a monk (Jon Norman Schneider) and a lama (James Saito), who inform her that her 3-year-old son, Tenzin (quite appropriately, played by a a bunraku-style puppet, designed by Matt Acheson), is the reincarnation of the lama’s beloved teacher.

Celia Keenan-Bolger and James Saito in "The Oldest Boy." Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

When the young boy passes a test administered by the holy men, proving that he is indeed the deceased lama, the mother and her husband must decide whether Tenzin should enter a Tibetan monastery, as the Tibetan visitors desire, so he can be trained for the religious life that awaits him.

The three do eventually travel to Tibet, and the trip not only confirms Tenzin’s spiritual leanings, but also proves enlightening for mother and father, especially the mother, who has been searching for spiritual guidance since the death of the professor who was guiding her in her studies.

"The Oldest Boy" is a moving story about the various relationships in a family. It is also a political comment on the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and its suppression of Buddhism. And finally, it is a spiritual journey, both for the characters in the play and the audience.

Taichman gives "The Oldest Boy" the light, otherworldly touch it so deserves and Keenan-Bolger is totally convincing as a mother filled with both the desire to keep her son close and the wonder of a seeker open to spiritual experiences.

Schneider and Saito are lovable and funny. But not so much that we don’t take them very seriously. They never let us forget that they are on a mission.

If only we were all one day visited by such wonderful human beings!

A scene from Lincoln Center Theater's production of "The Oldest Boy." Photo by T. Charles Erickson.


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