|Director John C. Reilly|
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Life of Buddha as Play and Cartoon (video)
Seven, Seth Auberon, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly
What if the Buddha's life were told as an animated cartoon full of pathos and a large cast?
Lissa Coffey (coffeytalk.com) interviews writer and performer Evan Brenner after a Los Angeles presentation of his one-man show (directed by John C. Reilly) at the Bootleg Theatre.
Evan Brenner made two special appearances at Against the Stream, performing "Buddha: A Fantastic Journey" -- which we at Wisdom Quarterly had also thought to write but as a musical called "Sid Buddha Superstar" or, with the help of Jack Black, Bob Odenkirk, and David Cross, "Jeepers Creepers Semi-Star:"
He estimates that he has now performed the 65-minute one-man tour de force between 300-500 times, from memory, sometimes accompanied by lights and musicians, oftentimes with the barest of props. The play is all heart with quite a bit of acting skill, but its real talent is revealed in the writing.
He thrilled the Dharma Punx audience, infusing a good dose of levity not only in the play -- because Buddhism unlike most teachings that become religions is funny -- but also in the insightful post-performance discussion. The play will eventually be coming out as a book and will include elements, sutras, and incidents left out of the play due to time constraints:
Khema, the chief disciple nun foremost in wisdom, the amazing story of Angulimala, a serial killer whom the Buddha stopped and saved, and possibly the touching tale of Kisa Gotami, a mother who lost her child and her mind whom the Buddha brought back to sanity.
The arduous effort of a two-year process -- going through the 10,000 pages of the Pali Canon, selecting important episodes from Gautama's entire life ranging from Prince Siddhartha's luxurious upbringing to the Buddha's final passing and beyond -- paid off like the austerities of a monk.
In fact, once when Brenner hosted Bhikkhu Bodhi, the prolific English translator of a great deal of the Pali texts, he returned to find an empty New York apartment. Just as he exclaimed, "He must not have come!" he noticed a small saffron bag and realized that the venerable American monastic had indeed arrived and spent the night but with only the barest monastic accoutrements. They really are ascetic.
And this is really a remarkable theatrical piece, acted out rather than read, sung, or simply told thanks to the contributions of director John C. Reilly, whom we would have never thought even knew the word "Dharma," judging from his Hollywood persona appearing in such mainstream movies as "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" with Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), or a voice talent in "Wreck It Ralph," or as the Sasquatch in "Tenacious D."