By Kirk Lynn.
Cast: 6m., 4w. (gender flexibility possible), plus extras. Expandable to as many as 25 actors. Zen Junior High is the story of a school that teaches the precepts of Zen Buddhism to young people. The play opens as a new class of students is leaving home and beginning the journey to the school. Zen Junior High is far away, "across the country, across the mountains and rivers." The trouble is: none of the students knows exactly which mountains or what river marks the path to the school, and speaking to strangers is strictly forbidden. To begin the journey every student must take a vow "not to talk to strangers and not to talk to friends; the only ones to talk to are fellow students of Zen." This strange vow of silence causes a lot trouble but challenges each student to make a spiritual leap to overcome the difficulty. Bankei and Tsai Chih recognize each other as fellow students not because of anything the other says, but because of their shared silence. The two become friends in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, exasperating each other as much as helping. Rengetsu and Chiyo-ni are sisters. Both of them long to study Zen, but Rengetsu must return home after she sees her younger sister safely to the school. Their lack of communication is as much a product of jealousy and sibling rivalry as the vow of silence. Shih Chieh, on the other hand, has been an only child her whole life. Her eagerness to make friends with a fellow student of Zen makes her gullible to a suspicious character she meets on the train who claims to have the same name and the same destination as Shih Chieh. Is this the mysterious laundry bandit for which the chief of police is searching? As the students get closer and closer, Master Bo-Dee attempts to prepare the school with the help of his bumbling manservant, Bobo. The students' paths begin to intersect, and the vow of silence is challenged by wild obstacles and overcome with wilder antics, including charades and slapstick. Based on Zen stories and koans, Zen Junior High is a classic road story in which the journey is the destination. Simple staging. Approximate Running Time: 60 minutes.