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Broadway Buddha

Death, in all its beauty, gets the Cleveland Public Theatre treatment.

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The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a text traditionally read aloud at the time of a Buddhist's death. The words supposedly guide the deceased through a transitional realm, where the soul either finds enlightenment or is reborn. It's sacred. It's complex. And it sure as hell isn't material meant to be performed on a mainstream stage.

But don't tell that to the creators of Blue Sky Transmission: A Tibetan Book of the Dead (premiering Friday at Cleveland Public Theatre), which combines Eastern spiritualism and Western storytelling. "We started with this very religious text, and we brought a little more earthiness and humor into it," says director Raymond Bobgan. "It's not an authentic, liturgical [translation]."

Blue Sky Transmission tells the tale of a harried lawyer and mother who dies and is guided through the afterlife by a "mysterious escort." She eventually faces the very essence of her life -- its past, present, and future. "She needs to make choices based on the habits of her life," Bobgan says. "This is one person's journey and what happens to her."

Not so surprisingly, transforming a decidedly nonlinear, non-narrative work into a theater production was not easy. Its creators wanted to avoid a direct lift from the text, Bobgan says, as well as incorporation of Tibetan and Buddhist performance styles. "There's a lot of leeway, because we're talking about death," he explains. "We don't need to explain every single thing. We follow a thread of a story."

It's all heady stuff, Bobgan admits, adding that the results are both accessible and thought-provoking. "It's ultimately uplifting and incredibly beautiful," he says. "It's about questioning how we make the choices we make in our lives. There's something really beautiful about all of this. Let's not ignore that, it says. Let's not get so caught up in our daily lives that we ignore that."

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