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The Oldest Boy

A Play in Three Ceremonies

Sarah Ruhl

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Oldest Boy Download image

ISBN10: 0374535876
ISBN13: 9780374535872

Trade Paperback

160 Pages



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In this moving exploration of parenthood, an American mother and a Tibetan father have a three-year-old son believed to be the reincarnation of a Buddhist lama. When a Tibetan lama and a monk come to their home unexpectedly, asking to take their child away for a life of spiritual training in India, the parents must make a life-altering choice that will test their strength, their marriage, and their hearts.

The Oldest Boy is a richly emotional journey filled with music, dance, puppetry, ritual, and laughter—Sarah Ruhl at her imaginative best. A meditation on attachment and unconditional love, the play asks us to believe in a world in which sometimes the youngest children are also the oldest and wisest teachers.


Praise for The Oldest Boy

"Sarah Ruhl’s new play, The Oldest Boy, is extremely imaginative and hypnotically beautiful."—Marilyn Stasio, Variety

"Ms. Ruhl’s drama . . . is among the most easily accessible from this poetic, venturesome playwright. In addition to being an exploration of a family’s willingness to embrace a radical notion of what may be best for its child, the play offers a neat primer in the history and principles of Tibetan Buddhism . . . [The Oldest Boy] is marked by Ms. Ruhl’s inquisitive intelligence, clean-lined eloquence and spiky humor."—Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

"The work, inspired by the author’s Tibetan Buddhist baby-sitter and now in its world premiere, is thoughtful and imaginative and showcased beautifully by Keenan-Bolger’s vivid star turn."—Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News

"It's hardly uncommon that the emotional tsunami of maternal love can inspire many mothers to believe their children are truly special beings, perhaps even divine. But in the imaginative mind of Sarah Ruhl that primal connection yields an extraordinary story . . . This meditation on such intellectually unfashionable concepts as faith, destiny and spirituality is delicate and affecting. And it's impossible to imagine it receiving more ideal treatment than in Rebecca Taichman's exquisite production for Lincoln Center Theater . . . The Oldest Boy is among her more straightforward works, but it has a poignancy that feels unique and entirely personal. It also evinces a fresh perspective on parental attachment and the mentor-disciple relationship . . . There's gorgeous fluidity in the writing as it jumps back to recount how Tenzin's parents met at the Tibetan restaurant his father runs, when his mother came in one afternoon seeking shelter from the rain."—David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


A tasteful house decorated with rich Tibetan colors.

Half Western furniture, half Eastern furniture and rugs.

A few large statues of the Buddha.

A woman,...

About the author

Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl's plays include In the Next Room, or the vibrator play (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Tony Award nominee); The Clean House (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize); Passion Play, a cycle (PEN American Award); Dead Man's Cell Phone (Helen Hayes Award); and Stage Kiss and Dear Elizabeth. She has been the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the Helen Merrill Emerging Playwrights Award, the Whiting Writers' Award, the PEN Center Award for a midcareer playwright, the Feminist Press's Forty Under Forty Award, and the 2010 Lilly Award. She is currently on the faculty at Yale School of Drama and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

© Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Sarah Ruhl

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