Buddha Boy

BATS Theatre, Wellington

03/02/2009 - 09/02/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

Buddha Boy

Inspired by a real event, Buddha Boy takes the audience on a journey into the subconscious.   Sometimes you find your way only after you lose your mind a little. 

In 2006, Sonya Stewart came across a tiny article in the newspaper.  Drawn to the headline of "Buddha Boy Missing", what she read started a journey that she wasn’t expecting.  "I’ve always been drawn to eastern religion.  It fascinates me.  And my first thought on reading about his extreme meditation for 10 months was ‘why would someone do that’.   It’s turned into a very personal story.  A reality I had known has been weaved into a fiction I created"  

Buddha Boy explores two people’s natural urge to find balance in their life and the extreme measures they will take when that balance is shaken.  Can you walk through the world without touching it?  How many ways can people hide?

Written by Sonya Stewart (2006 winner of the Chapman Tripp award for Outstanding New Playwright) and directed by Brylee Lamb, Buddha Boy features a creative and dynamic cast that brings this strange tale to life.

Performing at BATS Theatre from 3rd February till 9th February at 8pm (no show Friday 6th February). 
Tickets $10 to $16, available through BATS Theatre. 
Online:  book@bats.co.nz, Phone:  (04) 802 4175

Sophie:  Sophia Elisabeth
Janu: Vincent Wong
Maya:  Sandi Malesic

Stage Manager:  Vanessa Baylen
Lighting Operator:  Gareth Hobbs
Lighting Designer:  Joshua Judkins

50 min, no interval

Engaging searches for enlightenment

Review by Lynn Freeman 11th Feb 2009

Buddha Boy largely takes place in another realm, that being the only logical place the two protagonists could meet.

Kiwi Sophie is literally drowning her sorrows and solitude in alcohol and contemplating ending it all. In Nepal, a teenager is being hailed as the next Buddha after meditating under a tree for 10 months. His search for enlightenment isn’t going too well, and ultimately these two lonely souls try to help each other to cope with their demons.

Sophia Elisabeth and Vincent Wong are very engaging as Sophie and Janu, Wong hampered only by a dodgy wig. Sandi Halesic plays Janu’s best friend whom he had betrayed.

Brylee Lamb’s direction is a little clumsy in places but she and her cast put their hearts in the play and you leave it feeling rather enlightened yourself.


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A fair and very earnest effort

Review by Helen Sims 11th Feb 2009

Upon entering BATS to see Buddha Boy one takes in first a shirtless, slim Asian man meditating under what appears to be a tall tent (actually a stylised tree), who unsurprisingly turns out to be the title character. Then you notice the bed to the side of the tree, surrounded by rubbish and alcohol. The play begins with the disheveled Sophie sitting up in this bed. It seems she has been there for some time, passing in and out of lucidity. You realise fairly early on that she is seriously depressed, following an unspecified disappointment. Sophie reads about the ‘Buddha Boy’ in a newspaper article – a 17-year-old who has been meditating under a tree for 10 months, without eating, drinking or sleeping. She travels to meet him in her alcohol-induced dreams (or possibly on some other plane of reality?) Janu, the ‘Buddha Boy’ is far from spiritually enlightened – he is also trying to escape from the world and more particularly, his childhood friend Maya. The rest of the play charts their healing influence on each other.

Although the interactions between Sophie and Janu are at first humorous and touching, they become somewhat repetitive due to a lack of dynamism in the staging. Given the magic realism in the script, which on the whole is very well written and observant, I would expect a more imaginative production. For a play that charts emotional healing there was also lack of observable character development. I don’t really lay the blame for this at the feet of the actors – Sophia Elisabeth as Sophie, Vincent Wong as Janu and Sandi Malesic as Maya – but again at the fairly static staging which doesn’t seem to have taken up the imaginative opportunities this play offers, or plumbed its depths.

However, bearing in mind the timeframes and budgets available to Fringe plays in general this is a fair and very earnest effort.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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Compelling truths and wisdom in everyday tale

Review by John Smythe 04th Feb 2009

As with Wheel, her debut play two years ago, Sonya Stewart brings a light touch to profound, if everyday, themes. And once more she looks to what we call the East (although it’s north west of us) for answers to life’s abiding questions, injecting a spurt of magic realism to elevate what might otherwise be mundane.

A young woman, Sophie, has hit rock bottom, having been let down yet again by broken promises, not that the details are ever revealed. She has simply lost the will to live and is binge-boozing to escape – or add to – the numbness while contemplating ways to end it all without upsetting people like her mum or grossing herself out in the process.

All this emerges from a brief and dishonest phone conversation with her mother and through a self-defeating stream of consciousness spoken aloud to a soft toy. While Sophie’s story lacks specifics and individual idiosyncrasies, it does evoke a state most of us know from experience and actress Sophia Elizabeth plays it with a truth that provokes ‘shock of recognition’ laughter.

Fortunately, in a rare moment of connection with the wider world, Sophie sees a newspaper article (actual: it was this that inspired the play) about a 15 year-old Nepali boy, believed to be the reincarnation of Buddha, who is missing from the place where he had been meditating, supposedly without food and water, for 10 months.

Sophie’s transformation from drunken deadbeat comotose sleeper to fresh inquisitive young woman, suddenly in the presence of a meditating boy (actor Vincent Wong has been sitting upstage centre in half-lotus since we entered the auditorium) is dramatic and is quickly explained as her dream. It’s when she Googles him, later, and sees the face she dreamed of, that we realise this is magic realism.

The question is, why has Janu (differently named from the real boy: Ram Bahadur Bomjon) taken this break from the material world to meditate? Unlike Bomjon, whose nickname is Buddha Boy, Janu was born Hindi and has only recently begun to explore the mysteries of Buddhism.

Manifestations of events involving his best friend Maya (Sandi Malesic) reveal why Janu is seeking enlightenment, and again the key event is prosaic yet profoundly important to those it involves.

All this happens in a realm of child-like innocence and play, counterpointed by a heavy-duty harangue from Sophie, who might just as well be taking to herself – and isn’t that always the way, that the faults we criticise most in others are our own? Without giving too much away, she achieves a level of enlightenment by discovering it for herself which is good because no amount of anyone else telling her the bleeding obvious would have worked.

Wong brings a splendid centred quality to Janu and Malesic offers a clear insight into Maya’s inner strength and vulnerability. Both play their roles in their natural Kiwi voices, which is entirely valid, given Sophie – who specifically states she is from New Zealand – is imagining them and ‘in reality’ they’d be speaking to each other in Nepalese and are unlikely to know any English.

Except Elizabeth’s own voice, which she likewise brings to Sophie, happens to be American, which adds an unintended dimension to the play. Or is it a limitation? We hear so much of the human condition expressed in American accents and our actors spend so much time adopting the accent to get work on stage or screen, it’s a shame we couldn’t own this particular homegrown experience. Of course Stewart could have added a line saying Sophie was an immigrant but that would contradict the truism that culturally specific stories are more universal. (As a visiting American script guru once said, we are so lucky because even though everything has already been said, over and over, we can say it all again in our particular voices and make it all sound fresh!)

While Stewart’s script could probably be trimmed of some over-explanatory ‘on the nose’ lines, and developed to include more quirky detail in Sophie’s story, director Brylee Lamb and all the actors keep the focus on its essence, compelling us to recognise its truths and value its wisdom.


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