|Clay Man Soon, Tenzin Ngawang, and some yaks
(photo by KR Nelson)
The story follows a novice New York Times reporter (Winifred Froelich) who has come to interview HHDL (Jay Ramos). As she questions him and he begins to tell her about his life, we travel with him and watch those scenes play out. Adorable 5-year-old Tenzin Namgyal plays the young HHDL, chosen or recognized as the next Dalai Lama at the age of two, and soon thereafter sent to the town of Lhasa to study and learn to fulfill his role. The youthful and effervescent Clay Man Soo portrays HHDL in these years, playful and "naughty," preferring to spend time outdoors and with animals rather than at his studies. Shortly after assuming his role as spiritual and political leader of Tibet at the age of 15, China invades, and he's eventually forced to leave his homeland and live in exile in India (where he still resides today at the age of almost 88). The play takes us through all of these stages of his life, and shows us the human behind the iconic leader.
Interspersed with the scenes of HHDL's life (enacted by the talented and playful ensemble including Janelle Tangonan Anderson, Maje Adams, Ankita Ashrit, Alex Galick, and Ashley Horiuchi) are traditional Tibetan music and dance. The multi-talented Tenzin Ngawang is the Music and Dance Director, and also plays a plethora of traditional Tibetan instruments. He sings, dances, and plays with a sparkle in his eye and an infectious spirit that draws the audience in. Performers of all ages in gorgeous traditional costumes perform the dances that add color and authenticity to the story, and guide us from one location to another.
Ensemble members are dressed in the familiar maroon color of Buddhist monk's robes; even the reporter's Western clothing is maroon. Incredible puppetry on display includes yak's heads, various animals, a fluffy creature inhabited by two people, and a long dragon on a stick that flies over the crowd. Each location has a few backdrops with charming paintings of mountains or other nature scenes (mask and scenic design by Sky Brooks, wardrobe by Anabel Weiland).
Like Nature, The Buddha Prince is an experience that transcends theater. The total immersion in Nature, the physicality of moving and following along on this journey, the children running around mesmerized by the performance, the authentic Tibetan music and dance performed by our local Tibetan-American community, the Dalai Lama's message of peace, kindness, and human connection, the enthusiasm and energy of the performers, all combine to make this a unique experience that should not be missed. Performances continue through July 9 only, with both daytime and evening performances (click here for info and tickets). And while you're there, be sure to check out the Hennepin History Museum across the street, that includes a special exhibit on the early life of HHDL, as well as exhibits about the history and culture of Hennepin County.