‘Tibet Through the Red Box’ debuts
It’s no secret that this community is THE place to come for touring Tibetan monks. So it seems in the nature of things to have a play that features Tibet.
Produced by CATS (Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra), “Tibet Through the Red Box” is the true story of young Peter Sis and his father, who was sent from Czechoslovakia to China by the Soviet government to film a documentary about the building of a highway into Tibet. After becoming lost in the snowy mountains, Mr. Sis is found by a mysterious boy who cuts a map out of a giant rhododendron leaf, showing him the way through Tibet towards the Potala, the Buddhist palace, where the Dalai Lama lives. After three years and many adventures in the land of enchantment, Sis begins his journey back home to his son.
The play dramatizes the boy’s imaginative journey – his fantasies about what adventures his father might be having in Tibet (in dreamlike scenes, Peter flies there himself) and what feelings the long absence from each other engenders in both.
The play is based on the book by the same name that Peter Sis wrote about this time of his life in the 1950s. Much recognition has followed since then, with the book being designated in 1999 an Caldecott Honor Book, the author being awarded a 2003 MacArthur Fellowship, and the play, which was adapted by David Henry Hwang, being awarded one of seven esteemed “AT&T: OnStage” awards that are given to new plays with outstanding artistic achievement.
This show, originally commissioned and produced by Seattle Children’s Theatre in 2003-2004, is filled with wonder and fantastic creatures, says its director, Diane Fetterly, a five-year member of CATS.
Says Fetterly, “It’s been a beautiful collaborative thing between myself and the actors to create something that is magical and very moving. It’s like a Tibetan Wizard of Oz. Man is lost and along comes a spirit (Jangumu, played by Wanda Shiotsuka) who guides both father and son to understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness, all lessons of Buddhism.”
In addition to young Peter, played by 12-year-old Philip Vossler-Thompson and his father, played by Michael Baranowski, the cast portrays a cat, yetis (abominable snowmen), lamas, a fish with humanlike faces and demons, all of which give the play a fairytale feeling. In trying to capture the feeling of the Tibetan culture, CATS rented the original costumes from the Seattle production.
The show is fun entertainment for the whole family. It’s been rumored that on opening night, actual monks from Tibet, on tour in our community to raise funds for their monastery, will be adding their blessings to the production. It might be fun to see their reactions, especially to the character of the Dalai Lama, played by Jared O’Rourke.
CATS was formed in 1994 to promote diversity through multicultural theater, events and workshops, says Marketing Director Jeannie Wood. Producing a play a year, the nonprofit organization has grown to upwards of 200 Asian and non-Asian members.
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