Nephew of the Universe, a solo show now playing at the Lounge Theatre, follows the late adolescence and early adulthood of Rob Bruner, an unassuming, everyday guy from Canada with an unconventional, if not extraordinary upbringing.
Our hero spent his tender teenage years as a devoted disciple of Guru Sri Chimoy, an heavily influential Indian spiritual leader who taught meditation and spiritual practice in the U.S in the 60’s and 70’s. Bruner’s parents were embroiled in a bitter divorce, and his Aunt introduced him to meditation, guided and by the Guru himself.
Chinmoy attracted thousands of followers during his lifetime, including the likes of Carlos Santana (a one-time friend of Bruner) and John McLaughlin. He practiced celibacy and demand that his devotees remain celibate themselves and refrain from marriage. In fact, Guru wasn’t super down with things like education, independence or autonomy of any kind, dancing, drinking, socializing or basically anything fun and/or normal. Rob, coming of age and horny as hell, has a hard time complying with the many restrictions of spiritual life. Ultimately, Rob chooses secular life, his desire for companionship and a normal life ultimately usurps his devotion to the Guru.
Fascinatingly, Bruner and Chinmoy shared a father/son dynamic, and his own father made him feel ashamed for following the Guru. The Guru behaved like a father to Bruner in many ways , but also placed many restrictions on Bruner’s behavior that impeded his growth, maturity, and his ability to lead a healthy, normal life. Bruner ultimately separates from the Guru in favor of normal relationships, and his expression relief and newfound freedom is weirdly cathartic. Although Bruner’s portrayal of the Guru is respectful and even reverent, one gets the sense that he escaped from an unhealthy, oppressive situation.
There are several projected images meant to enhance the storytelling but slowed the evening’s pace significantly due to the many technical difficulties (which will no doubt be ironed out for the show’s official opening). The script itself could use a trim; a 75 minute story that could be told in an hour or less. Director Jessica Lynn Johnson keeps the staging simple and straightforward enough, though the pacing feels sluggish at times.
Bruner is endearing and it’s certainly interesting to hear the tale unfold. He is at his best when he’s relaxed and riffing, the script seems to trip him up at times. He is a fun character actor and embodies Santana, his therapist and even Chinmoy himself with playful ease.
Ultimately, the show is a success; Bruner is an engaging actor telling and he has an unusual story to tell. Ultimately, his: Be a Good Person. That’s a story worth hearing over and over again.
Nephew of the Universe, Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
Thursday June 7th @ 8 p.m.
Saturday June 16th @ 6 p.m.
Saturday June 23rd @ 2 p.m.