Koan, the Odyssey's resident company, has put together a theatrical exploration of the relevance of Hindu and Buddhist ideas to a stimulus-ridden Western lifestyle. Using excerpts from The Conference of the Birds, written by Faridu'd-Din, a Sufi poet, Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, Ionesco's Exit The King, and additional quotes from Bertolt Brecht, Sam Shepard, Peter Handke, Alan Watts, Arthur Kopit, the Bhagavad-Gita and other Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi texts, Ron Sossi and the group have created a kind of pageant of the mind that journeys through the conflict among mind, body, and soul. The Birds must travel through the Seven Valleys to find themselves. Each valley has a secret that must be understood before one can proceed to the next one. Understanding the words and the path of the Birds depends on purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit. There is no guide, no traveler, only the journey. The Birds' travails overlap the life story of Siddhartha, a young man who eventually renounces the material world to find his soul and become the Buddha.
It is of course very complicated material, veering far away from Western thinking and cohesive explanation. To venture to understand the Buddhist path to Nirvana from a standing start in a two-hour period would be arrogant and counterproductive. The effort to project it, nevertheless, is quite remarkable. With movement and verse, some of it borrowed from the authoritative list above, some of it culled from the 18-month interior exploration of director Sossi and his talented cast, a surprisingly interesting diorama is laid out.
The onstage ensemble comprises Alan Abelew as a nicely confused Nightingale; sweet-voiced Diana Cignoni as Hoopoe and Queen Marie; powerfully vital Beth Hogan as Sparrow and Marguerite; Tom Lillard as Owl and the pathetic King; Amanda Street as Peacock, and Luis Zambrano as the mercurial Siddhartha. They are joined by a video cast, which includes Pamela Gordon, Wayne Grace, Leon Morenzie, Barry Philips, and Jack Stehlin. Orson Bean is the Narrator. Scenic designer Charles Erven, lighting by Kathi O'Donohue, costumes by Marya Krakowiak, sound by Kurt Thum, video by Marc Rosenthal, and movement by Stephanie Shroyer combine to make this a very unusual offering.
Dealing as it does with the mind and not the body, an expense of spirit is required by the audience to make the journey to partial understanding. To experience the divine awakening, the Buddha abjures, one must kill sense, kill memory, and when all passions and desires are silent, then one might have the answer to the question. "Tell me, have you found the answer?" asks the Hoopoe Bird of a Hermit they meet in the desert. "What answer?" replies the Hermit. "To your question," says the Hoopoe. "What question?" asks the Hermit. And there you have it.
"Buddha's Big Nite!," presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. (2 p.m. on Apr. 27 and May 11) Apr. 5-May 25. $20.50-25.00. (310) 477-2055.