The Buddha Prince
Reviewed by Elizabeth Lopez
The life of His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama spreads before you, and for one hour you will be transported to a monastery in Tibet as you follow the trail that leads to the monks, and, ultimately, to the Dalai Lama. Well, not exactly The Dalai Lama, but to an ensemble of performers who bring to life the famous pacifist and the people in his life that loved him. A series of dance and performance numbers that celebrate his life and experiences are presented.
This walking, or rather hiking, will give you a sense of what the monk’s environment is like. The natural elements (wind, weather, and dirt-filled pathways) add to the overall Tibetan environment. As you enter the world of the Dalai Lama, you will experience a different culture- one that is filled with music, dance and color. Images of animals and sounds fill the air with excitement and anticipation, as each performance is both entertaining and spiritual. This play allowed me to enter a Tibetan world, as told by the reincarnated “Buddha on earth”- the Dalai Lama. Be prepared to be transported to a different time and culture, one that is both fascinating and mysterious, and uniquely different to ours. If you bring the right walking or hiking shoes, this walking play is surely to be an enjoyable one.
It all begins as a reporter is interviewing the 68-year old Dalai Lama. Her questions probe into various times in his life beginning from the time he was a toddler to the present day. An older and wiser Dalai Lama narrates his life story as performers re-enact memories from his past.
He was born on July 6, 1935 and named Lhamo Thondup, to a poor family in Taktser in the province of Amdo. As a child, he walked around the house repeating the phrase ”I’m going to Lhasa, I’m going to Lhasa.” This, coupled with his insistence that he be allowed to sit at the head of the table, was later said to be an indication that he must have known that he was destined for greater things. A higher lama asked the young toddler many questions, which he answered correctly, and thus, he was ultimately chosen to be the next Dalai Lama. Legend has it that only the ”holy one” would know the right answers.
He was then taken to the monastery where he would live the rest of his childhood and teenage years, emersing himself in education, religious studies, and daily meditation. As a young child, he was curious and full of life. He was also sensitive to people and loved animals. Wild animals come to life as the cast of actors roar and frolic with the young leader. The hand puppet show is sure to entertain children and adults alike. We see him as a young child playing with hens and emulating chickens while he hand picks eggs from his mother’s garden. The young Dalai Lama spent many years of loneliness. He found friends in the animals that surrounded him, providing exciting adventures and companionship that his extensive library of books could not do.
The instruments used to replicate the sounds of many wild animals, such as the Yak or the monkey, add to the wilderness atmosphere. Bright colored birds, bears, and other animals were a big part of the Dalai Lama’s life. His love of animals, from an early age, gave him the ability and courage to befriend many different types of wild animals.
At the young age of 16, the Dalai Lama was forced to keep relations with the leaders of Communist China in order to protect his people from the ruthless dictatorship that took over his country. This is a controversial period in his life and he explains why he felt compelled to befriend the communists; for the sake and safety of his people. At this young age, a naïve Dalai Lama believed in the promises of the Communist Chinese government, who soon began to take brutally attack the people of Tibet. Many were tortured and killed while a helpless Dalai Lama watched as his country was being torn apart. His followers urged the young leader to abandon Tibet to save his life. Ultimately, he left and has never returned. He took haven in India where he heads the Tibetan government-in-exile to this day. Sadly, poverty and a lack of resources add to the already mounting problems in India due to the large numbers of Tibetans who each year pour into this poor city in hopes of seeing their religious leader one last time.
I would encourage everyone to go see this play for many reasons: It’s a different experience; this “walking story” tells the life of a religious leader of Tibet and of a country that continues to suffer but refuses to give up, but rather, look to the Dalai Lama for hope.
The location of the play is at the top of a park in the Pasadena hills where greenery and worn dirt pathways add to the mood of the story. The Buddha Prince is as entertaining as it is emotive. His Holiness’ message: “The time has come for us to think on a deeper level, on a human level, and appreciate and respect our sameness as human beings.”
The people in Tibet are currently living under terrible conditions, forcing thousands of Tibetans to leave their country in search of freedom. The Dalai Lama reminds us that as long as there is one country in suffering, no one (country or person) is truly free. The pacifist sends messages of love and peace and opens the doors of communication with love and understanding instead of hatred and resentment.
This is a story easily understood by both young and old with a strong message that is loud and clear; love can heal the hurts of the world and he’s reaching out to everyone to listen to his message. The Dalai Lama has dedicated his entire life to teaching love, forgiveness, non-violence and to shedding light to the plight of the Tibetans.
Performance kudos should give to all the performers but especially to Alan Fessenden, who portrays the famous leader with dignity and respect.
The Cast: Janet Song, Emily Hong, Alain Gulliou, Nathan Ha, Yson Lien, Nina Rolle, Guido Bryant, Lee Bradley, Sarah Peters, Aminisha Ferdinand, Julie A. Lockhart, Elise Lorimer, Betsy, Betsy Hale, and Esperanza Catubig.
Directed by Markell Keifer * Written by Michael French, Carlyle Coash, Markell Kiefer & Waylon H. Lewis * Musical Score by Nina Rolle * Choreography by Tyson Lien