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Theater review: 'Buddha -- A Fantastic Journey' at Bootleg Theater

February 15, 2012 |  3:45 pm

“Buddha — A Fantastic Journey” at Bootleg Theater
“Buddha — A Fantastic Journey,” Evan Brenner’s one-man show now at Bootleg Theater, borrows the ancient spiritual leader’s own words to trace the progression of his life and philosophy. It’s a tale of renunciation, full of weighty silence and boisterous inner fury, laying out the path to nirvana for suffering mortals.
 
Textually, the show is no more dramatic than a religious pamphlet — and arguably less boldly imaginative. Histrionics aren’t the Buddhist way. But the production, directed by actor John C. Reilly, is soulfully soothing, thanks to Sheela Bringi and Jaeger Smith’s original live score of classical Indian-style music and Francois-Pierre Couture’s subtle pastel-hued scenic and lighting effects. For 70 lulling minutes, the Bootleg becomes a temple of gentle meditation and beneficent instruction.

Like many modern-day semi-secular types, I have been drawn to Buddhism in a superficial, consumer-oriented way (candles, beginner’s yoga, wisdom-dispensing calendars). Brenner’s recap didn’t augment my knowledge much. His quasi sermon, reiterating key principles and themes about the vanity of human wishes in a transitory world, seems pitched to friendly dabblers. (Nodding heads were in serene motion at the opening night performance.)

But there was something a little more profound going on theatrically. Brenner possesses remarkable poise. He delivers the material as though floating on an invisible cloud. His playbill bio says he has practiced and studied Buddhism for more than 20 years. I would have liked to have heard more about that fantastic journey and how it has informed his work as a writer, director and actor working in independent film and television. Solo performance can never get too personal — the more it intimately exposes, the more it draws us in. Right now Brenner seems to be embodying his Buddhist story better than he is telling it.

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-- Charles McNulty

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“Buddha — A Fantastic Journey,” Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., LA. 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, with one Sunday performance at 3 p.m. on March 4. Ends March 4. $30. (800) 838-3006 or www.thebuddhaplay.com. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Photos: Evan Brenner. Credit: Phoebe Sudrow

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