Friday, February 10, 2012

Buddha: A Fantastic Journey Extended

Evan Brenner
Photo credit: Phoebe Sudrow

Buddah - A Fantastic Journey

Why Evan Brenner chose The Bootleg Theater to showcase his one person performance is a mystery. Waiting in a cabaret with wine by the bottle and a stage set for rock and roll with loud music playing just seemed odd. As the audience is introduced to the performance space just behind the concession stand, two musicians set an entirely different tone. Sheila Bringi’s wooden flute improvisations accompanied by simple tablas by Jaeger Smith calm things down nicely. However, as the audience settles with its drinks and snacks, a very enthusiastic hostess bounds onto the stage to remind us that we are in for a good time and a party after the show. It was just jarring.

Francois-Pierre Couture’s lighting and minimal scenic design then brings the atmosphere back to center as we wait for Brenner to begin his examination of the life of Buddha. Whether it was director John C. Reilly’s influence or just that the actor was still unprepared for the ensuing story is unclear. Long pauses and attempts at what the program mentions as reflecting Paul Sills’ Story Theatre Techniques (spinning from his mother, Viola Spolin’s Improvisation for the Theatre) would probably have both Paul and Viola restless in their graves. Sadly, Brenner is wooden and overly resolute in his delivery and blocking. He has a well studied sort of standing half lotus (it may be a modified Tree Pose) and a nicely executed head stand as his explanations of how Siddartha became the Buddha unfold. Siddartha was the Indian Prince whom most of us first learned about through Hermann Hesse’s popular novel. The Prince is expected by his father to Rule the World. Sages declare that Siddartha may go one way or another. Ultimately, to satisfy his yearning for meaning in life, Siddartha chooses the arduous pathway to Enlightenment.

We all die. The story of the Buddha examines this essential truth using ‘Buddha’s own words.’ Brenner starts his story at the end and then reverts back to the beginning accompanied by tablas, harmonium and flute. Like a kabuki play, our attention is drawn to the Devil who tempts the Buddha with loud ratchets. Too literal for my tastes.

The Four Noble Truths: Life is suffering; suffering comes from attachment; one may eliminate suffering through gradual and intentional personal development and eventually, one may abandon attachment and thus end suffering. Simple enough.

Sitting through Brenner’s premeditated and yet seemingly wandering blocking and hesitant delivery may have been deliberate. Either this was the choice of the director or the performer’s choice to do it his own way. Sadly, there was suffering. Brenner’s performance was put off for a week for reasons I don’t know, but as the promotional material announced that he had received raves for this project over the past two years, one wonders what the problem might be. Director John C. Reilley was drawn to the material. Having his celebrity attached certainly adds gravitas. In fact, the material itself is somewhat enlightening and does tell the story of The Buddha in an interesting way. Anyone who is familiar with Eastern Thought might have seen this as a perfect vehicle to bring Westerners into the fold. I was hoping to be thrilled with a western approach to the topic. To really explore Buddhism, I suggest taking a yoga class and contemplating the Four Noble Truths for yourself and then checking out the Eight Fold Path. Kudos to the technical staff who had nothing to do with overhead helicopters and sirens. Beverly Boulevard becomes a fast moving freeway in the evenings. Be careful crossing the street!

Buddha: A Fantastic Journey

Written and Performed by Evan Brenner

Directed by John C. Reilley

Fridays and Saturdays only at 7:30PM (note early curtain)

Through March 4, 2012 (Sunday Performance @ 3PM)

Bootleg Theater

2220 Beverly

Los Angeles, Ca 90057

Tickets: $30.00

800 838 3006

Buddha – A Fantastic Journey continues through April 1 on Fridays and Saturdays @ 7:30 pm (please note early curtain time), except March 23 and 24 which are dark. Added performances include 3 pm matinees on Saturdays February 25, March 3 and March 31 and on Sundays March 4, 11, 18 and April 1; and two Thursday evening performances on March 8 and March 15, both @ 7:30 pm.