The Oldest Boy: A Play in Three Ceremonies
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In The Oldest Boy, the newest work from the visionary playwright Sarah Ruhl, faith and family are put at odds when a three-year-old boy is recognized as the reincarnation of a high Buddhist Lama. Tradition requires that the boy begin the monastic life as soon as possible, a revelation that anguishes his father, a Tibetan-born restaurateur, and his mother, a Midwesterner torn between her respect for her husband's culture and her maternal instinct.
The Oldest Boy utilizes song, dance, and puppetry to tell a story of mingling cultures, spiritual seeking, and parental heartbreak. With gentle humor and compassion it enacts the central struggle of any mother's experience: accepting that loving also means letting go.
fashionable. Stay home and read.” And so I did. LAMA Would you like me to make an offering for your teacher, to pray that he has a good rebirth? MOTHER My teacher was Jewish. He didn’t believe in reincarnation. LAMA What did he believe in? MOTHER Literature. When I talked to him, my mind, and his mind, were very close. LAMA Yes. She remembers her teacher. MOTHER I miss him. The lama nods. MOTHER When I got pregnant, part of me thought, Maybe it’s my teacher, coming back to see me.
I’m just going to get my son. Are you all right for a moment? MONK And LAMA Oh, yes yes. MOTHER You must excuse me—my husband won’t be back from work for another hour. Would you like to come back then? LAMA Oh, that is fine, we can wait. You can bring the baby here, if you like. How old is the baby? MOTHER Almost three! MONK That’s good! MOTHER Good? Yes— LAMA A nice age, yes? MOTHER Yes. A pause in which the baby is quiet. MOTHER It sounds as if he’s gone back to sleep. MONK
debt of gratitude goes to Yangzom, who brings so much care into our lives every day. She offered me the beginnings of this story and so much help along the way. Thank you to Tony, Anna, William, and Hope. Thank you to Kate Ruhl and Kathy Ruhl, and to the Noonans of Tryon Farm, and Clubbed Thumb and Two Rivers for space and time to write. And I want to thank the team of designers I worked with—Matt, Anita, Mimi, Darron, Barney, and Japhy—I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful collaboration.
sense to me—philosophical, not dogmatic—how to be happy—and compassionate— He groans. MOTHER I could—what’s that thing you do—when you sort of convert—or get baptized as a Buddhist? FATHER Take refuge? MOTHER Yes—take refuge!—that’s such a nice phrase—did you take refuge? FATHER I was born into Buddhism, I didn’t have to take refuge— MOTHER I could take refuge in you. FATHER No! No no no … MOTHER Oh—I’m sorry—that must have sounded—sacriligious— FATHER (overlapping with
your parents love each other? MOTHER Yes. Kind of. FATHER It is the same—see, chosen or unchosen. What about the man you are to marry? Have you told him? MOTHER Yes. FATHER What did he say? MOTHER It doesn’t matter. I love you. I choose you. FATHER I think you just like my food. MOTHER I don’t like your food. I love your food. FATHER Thank you. MOTHER So? Pause. FATHER I’m sorry. I cannot disappoint my family. My family is everything for me. MOTHER Yes. I understand.