The Works by Women San Francisco Meetup Group hosted our fourth event on Feb 21st in Berkeley– a performance of Tanya Shaffer and Vienna Teng’s hugely talked about play, The Fourth Messenger, produced by Shaffer’s 100 Shades of Green company. Our rapidly growing group (thank you, ladies!) was thrilled to attend this musical that re-imagines Buddha’s story – in this case, the Buddha is a woman, Mama Sid – and features a stellar acting line-up as well as Teng’s gorgeously eclectic score. Of particular interest in pre- and post-play conversations was the common question that all of us asked ourselves – what if, indeed, the Buddha were a woman? Why are our gods and spiritual leaders mostly men?
“”Messenger” – the almost sung-through musical takes its title from the omens that set Gautama on his path – is Shaffer’s first major project since her exhilarating “Baby Taj” premiered at TheatreWorks in 2005. Produced by Shaffer’s 100 Shades of Green company, it delves into a similar mix-and-clash of East-West culture, imaginatively staged by the same director – Broadway’s Matt August – and set and costume designers.”
Setsu Uzume of the Art Animal says the play stands apart from “other spiritual theater” by its “message of self-growth; Mama Sid’s journey from bourgeois to Buddha demonstrates that it is possible to be both flawed and enlightened. Her transformation asks what it means to be enlightened in a modern world saturated with class warfare, tabloid media and other forces trying to undermine true growth. Shaffer never quite answers this question, but implies that modern civilization tends to destroy goodness instead of learning from it.”
She goes on to praise Vienna Teng’s score: “Shaffer’s delightful existentialism is equally matched by Teng’s musical genius. The score has grit and determination: an alchemy of jazz and folk-rock that resonates from the first to final chord. Teng’s complex harmonies and inspired melodies in pieces like “The Human Experience” and “Look to the Thought” stick with you long after the curtain goes down.” The score has also received rave reviews elsewhere, with Jean Schiffman of the SF Examiner saying: “Teng’s score for the show is melodic and lyrical with layered, complex harmonies.”
The play runs through March 10 at Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. For those of you who couldn’t make it, you can buy tickets here.
If you were part of the Meetup event or saw The Fourth Messenger on your own, show your love to the women artists involved! What did you find enjoyable, meaningful or interesting about their work? What did you think of the music? Engage in a lively discussion in the comments below and share your thoughts.
Books and Lyrics: Tanya Shaffer
Music and Lyrics: Vienna Teng
Performers:Bekka Fink, Anna Ishida, Simone Kertesz, Annemaria Rajala*, Cathleen Riddley*, Alexis Wong
Costume Design: Fumiko Bielefeldt
Choreography: Bridgette Loriaux
Orchestration: Robin Reynolds
Image courtesy The Fourth Messenger Official Website