In What Happened to the Seeker, there is an illuminating moment when an aging hippie living in India muses on the local custom of going about the everyday business of living when young, working and raising families, then seeking enlightenment later when they are older. He speculates that maybe much of his current disappointment and that of his peers stems from having started so young.
The titular seeker is a middle-aged woman played by Nadia Ross who may have started too young, through no fault of her own. Born to hippies seeking spiritual enlightenment in the sixties, she has come to the realization that she has spent her entire adult life unsuccessfully trying to recreate the peace she felt as a child, and that from here on in, her closest friends will only continue to grow more tiresome, culminating in the final annoyance of actually dying, while the younger generation will only get more mystifying, the general public is likely as not to vote for fascists if there’s a possibility of a tax break in it and the path to peace has become warped by commercialization and just plain forgetfulness. Now in her fifties, she finds herself retreating from her work, her friends, and life in general but is lured out of her hiding place deep in the woods by the prospect of creating a new theatre piece, presumably, the one unspooling before us.
The story is told through multiple means. The audience is lead through different “experiences”, each lasting about twenty minutes; a short, engaging film acted out by puppets, that sets the story moving and introduces the main characters: Nadia, the disillusioned artist, Sarah, her go-getter twenty-something producer, cell phone glued to her ear and George an older friend even more world-weary than Nadia. There is an exhibit of artifacts, some interactive, marking her happy childhood, the long, slow slide into the despair of her adulthood, her many failed attempts at regaining peace and finally the desire for nothing but silence. During this portion, it is possible to get a drink at the bar which may be helpful should you start to consider what long-held objects might be in your own exhibit. There is also an audio portion that offers some exposition on the seeker movement, a rambling conversation/argument with an old friend and a guided meditation interrupted by Nadia’s dogs.
And this is all before the intermission which is followed by a short film of the Seeker’s contemporary retracing of the Hippie Trail through India, made famous by the Beatles’ ashram visit, and finally the performance; some monologues by the three main characters and ending on the seeker’s quiet revelation of what peace means to her here and now. Right at the end of the show is the first time we come face to face with the seeker herself. Having been told her story until now through the indirect means of puppets, objects, disembodied conversation, a glimpse of the world though her eyes, we’ve come to know her a little bit the way we come to know ourselves.
With so many moving parts, it is possible to miss out on some nuances and come away with what feels like an incomplete picture, but since that is also the experience of a life, maybe that’s okay. The heavy subject matter could come off as a bit of a downer but the pieces are suffused with humour and warmth.
How you feel about this show will no doubt be heavily influenced by where you are right now. Though I was born about a decade after the seeker, you could say we have the same parents, though their journeys diverged quite a bit. My mother didn’t run off to join an ashram; she ran off to join the government, though that might not be as different as it sounds. I can certainly relate to the long unspectacular disillusionment; the desire to retreat from the world, not talk, not listen, yet remain unwilling to completely give up hope.
What Happened to the Seeker wants to offer some comfort and overall, I guess I found some. The show is a bit like a warm, friendly hug and a reminder that peace can be found among the chaos and that it’s okay to lie down for a little while but eventually, you just have to keep going.
What Happened to the Seeker is at Arts Court until June 13 as part of Canada’s Magnetic North Theatre Festival. It plays June 9-12 at 7:00pm, and June 13, at 2:00pm. Tickets are $30 and are available through Ticketmaster.