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April 14, 2010

Theater: ‘Holy Tolle’ doesn’t plunge too deep

Holy Tolle Swallow That Ego
Presented by Bunbury Theatre. Directed by Kerk Fisher. Continues through April 25 at the Bunbury Theatre in the Henry Clay Building, 604 S. Third St. For tickets and more information, call 585-5306 or visit www.bunburytheatre.org.

One does not read Eckhart Tolle’s writings lightly. He suffered through tremendous bouts of depression and then experienced what he calls an “inner transformation.” This major shift in his life first alienated friends and loved ones, but soon he found a following to his teachings. His books have not only made him an important voice in spiritual thought and direction, but “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth” have found their way onto The New York Times bestseller list, the top of Oprah’s book list and to the stage at Bunbury Theatre.

This latest production is an original piece developed around Tolle’s “The New Earth” and “The Power of Now,” created by Juergen K. Tossman, Kerk Fisher and the ensemble (Ted Lesley, Dale Strange, Rita Hight, Raquel Robbins Cecil, Dennis Grinar, Marcia Miller, Sean Childress and Alexandria Sweatt). Stemming from a collaborative effort, the show delves into the meaning of “the painbody — the now, presence, consciousness, inner purpose, acceptance, enjoyment, enthusiasm, etc.” with the hope of coming out on the other side with a winning piece of theater. In reading about the play and about its inception, it seems it would be an inspired production. Unfortunately, it falls flat.

In the opening scene, intermingled with the dialogue, “ego” and “self” are established by voiceovers to show the “true thoughts” of the cast — mostly that the ego is unfocused and spews out unrelated statements about physical appearance, relationships, etc. Though an interesting concept, it’s quite clunky. The struggle to wait for the pre-recorded voices confines the momentum at the top of the show, and the rest of the play never really catches up.

A humorous motif that runs throughout is that of a fictional brother of Eckhart Tolle and his public access show in Indiana. He, too, is a spiritual guru, but he just can’t get his word out. It’s in moments like this that Bunbury has managed to turn the teachings of a deep thinker (the actual Eckhart Tolle) into a light play. But instead of simplifying the complex ideas and welcoming people to a new way of thinking, it comes across more as a spoof of Tolle’s words. Through much of the play, it’s not always clear as to whether the show is an homage to Tolle or a mockery of new age thought and “enlightened” people.

Any new work should be applauded, however. Creating a show based on Tolle’s writings, with the voices of an entire ensemble, is inspired and no doubt took a lot of time and energy. It shows that Bunbury continues to strive to create something new. But this just happens to be a production that never lives up to the possibility of what it could be.