Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Oldest Boy
Marin Theatre Company

Also see Richard's reviews of For the Love of Comrades, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Amélie, A New Musical

Jed Parsario (puppeteer), Tsering Dorjee, Melvign Badiola (puppeteer), Tenzin (puppet), and
Christine Albright

Marin Theatre Company opens its 49th season with the West Coast premiere of Sarah Ruhl's fascinating The Oldest Boy. This is the story of an American woman, called Mother and played by Christine Albright, and her Tibetan husband Father (Kurt Uy) who are making a life together in this country with their three-year-old boy Tenzin (Bawa). Mother comes face to face with two Tibetan monks (Wayne Lee and Jinn S. Kim) who claim that Tenzin is the reincarnation of a high Lama. She is challenged with the choice of keeping her child or letting him go to fulfill his spiritual destiny. The parents eventually consent to send their son to Nepal to be tested to see if he's the real thing, and of course they go along with him. Bernardo Bertolucci made a movie in 1993 called Little Buddha that covered a similar topic.

The absorbing drama's subtitle is appropriately "A play in three ceremonies" as, instead of normal scenes, most of the action proceeds by various forms of theatre such as related recollections, direct address to the audience, dance, prayer and spectacle. It is all interspersed with Tibetan Buddhist ritual and dance and features renowned Berkeley-based artist Tsering Dorjee Bawa. There are a lot of conversations between Mother and the Lama (Jinn S. Kim) about reincarnation and Eastern and Western Philosophy. Even if you are not fond of these topics there is enough to go on in the two hours to keep you interested.

Christine Albright skillfully plays the mother with passionate dedication and moving indecision. There is fine work by Kurt Uy as the father. He is quietly effective as a father who is more receptive to the idea of Tenzin moving to the monastery. Jimm S. Kim as the kindly lama and Wayne Lee as the beamish monk are excellent in their roles. The whole cast is seething with validity and sensitivity. The young son Tenzin is visually represented by an expressive wooden puppet manipulated by Melvign Badiola and Jed Parsario.

Scenic designer Collette Pollard has devised an excellent upscale living room set and a beautiful Tibetan temple set in the second act. Costumes by Fumiko Bielefedt are colorful authentic outfits. Director Jessica Thebus has skillfully staged the drama to make this a compelling and magnetic two hour production.

The Oldest Boy plays through October 11th, 2015, at Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org. Coming up next is Elizabeth Irwin's My Mañana Comes October 29th through November 22nd.

Photo: Kevin Berne

Be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

Privacy Policy