The Oldest Boy

The Oldest Boy

By Sarah Ruhl

Directed by Rebecca Taichman

Originally produced at Lincoln Center Theater, New York, NY.

October 9, 2014 through December 28, 2014

About the Premiere Production

In this moving and delightful exploration of motherhood, love and letting go, Tony Award® nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger (The Glass Menagerie) is an American mother whose young son is believed to be the reincarnation of a high Buddhist Lama. When Tibetan monks arrive unexpectedly, asking to take her child away for a life of spiritual training in India, she and her Tibetan husband must make a life-altering choice that will test their faith... and their hearts. The Oldest Boy is Sarah Ruhl at her imaginative best - a richly emotional journey filled with music, dance, puppetry, laughter, intimate moments and infinite meanings.

Artistic Statement

Sarah Ruhl is an inventive playwright whose work I greatly admire. After producing two of her plays, The Clean House and , Lincoln Center Theater (LCT) offered Sarah a commission. The Oldest Boy, the heartfelt and poignant work that Sarah delivered to us is now performing its world-premiere engagement in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.


The Oldest Boy, subtitled “a play in three ceremonies,” traces the dilemma of a woman who learns that her child has been identified as the reincarnation of a high-ranking lama. Tenzin, the two-year-old son of an American mother and Tibetan father, is sought by two Buddhist monks who have traveled from India, seeking permission to return accompanied by Tenzin so that he may begin his training to become a Tibetan spiritual master. Deeply attached to her son, the mother struggles to understand the nature of her unusual circumstance in order to determine whether she will acquiesce and give her consent.


Sarah, who dedicated The Oldest Boy to her three children, has written a remarkable and surprising tale that illuminates the connection between mother and child as it also explores the bond between teacher and student. In some respects, the work appears to be a typical Sarah Ruhl domestic comedy—the central character is a naïve and skittish heroine haplessly caught up in a world she doesn’t completely understand—but the playwright has also ventured into new and different territory, setting her work within the context of a foreign culture and religion. The Oldest Boy focuses on Buddhist beliefs and rituals accompanied by Tibetan music and dance, yet its thematic embrace is universal and the play reveals itself to be a profoundly moving work about sacrifice and loss, rebirth and redemption.


Sarah Ruhl is an important American playwright and her work is consistently produced at not-for-profit theaters all over the U.S. The two plays of hers that we previously produced were presented at numerous theaters around the world. Based on this track record, I would venture to say that The Oldest Boy will likely have a similar trajectory.

--André Bishop, Producing Artistic Director

Grant Statement

The Edgerton Foundation grant offered valuable assistance, enabling LCT to schedule a fifth week of rehearsals. The Oldest Boy is performed by five actors (with Tenzin principally portrayed by a puppet) and a three-member ensemble of traditional Tibetan dancers and musicians. The additional week of preparation was extremely helpful as Rebecca and the company worked throughout the rehearsal period with a puppet designer and a choreographer as the artistic team and ensemble brought The Oldest Boy to glorious life.

--André Bishop, Producing Artistic Director

Director: Rebecca Taichman

Set Design: Mimi Lien

Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman

Sound Design: Darron L. West

Costume Design: Anita Yavitch

Additional creative team: Matt Acheson (Puppet Design/Director), Barney O'Hanlon (Choreographer)

Cast: Ernest Abuba, Tsering Dorjee, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Takemi Kitamura, James Saito, Jon Norman Schneider, James Yaegashi, Nami Yamamoto

Additional Funders: The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs