Thursday, February 29, 2024
Evan Brenner performs "The Buddha Play," as he will Sunday in Cambridge's Central Square in a benefit for the Cambridge Insight Meditiation Center. (Photo: David Fuhrer)

Evan Brenner performs "The Buddha Play," as he will Sunday in Cambridge's Central Square in a benefit for the Cambridge Insight Meditiation Center. (Photo: David Fuhrer)

A few years ago, hedge fund partner Evan Brenner could have pointed you to some good investments. Now, as a full-time and much-lauded performer, Brenner can show you something he considers infinitely more valuable: The life of the Buddha.

The chance comes Sunday in a performance at the Central Square YMCA Theater benefiting the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center — one of some 100 performances he will give this year nationwide of his one-man show, “The Buddha Play.” It’s an encore of a spring performance, but new as well; Brenner hones his research and presentation constantly from the version he was inspired to write more than three years ago.

“I was in a little bit of a midlife crisis,” Brenner said Thursday from his home in Manhattan. “I periodically get into these seeking modes where I say, ‘Damn, I can’t figure my shit out. I’m unhappy. Let me look at Buddhism again.’”

That time, though, with his hedge fund closing and the shadow of 9/11 still overhead, he decided to go back to the original sources of Buddhism. It took more than a year of research before he was ready to share the work with a girlfriend.

“She oohed and aahed,” Brenner said. “It was a eureka moment.

Despite Sunday’s performance being the “unplugged” version of the show, audience members can expect to be riveted by Brenner’s first-person recounting of the life of the Buddha. The Boston Globe has called the show “enchanting, poignant, revealing, compelling,” and the Boston Herald called Brenner “a subtle and masterful storyteller.”

That matches the experience of people at the Meditation Center, said John Monterisi, a member of the center’s board of directors. One member approached Brenner impulsively after a performance to see if he would help raise launch an endowment for the center, established in 1985 as “an environment where the contemplative live can be developed and protected amidst the complexities of city living.”

Brenner said yes immediately, Monterisi recalled, as he has to other benefits

And while Monterisi hopes the show will get people excited about the endowment, which he expects to be “a very, very long haul,” it will have other benefits for teachers and others at the centers who plan to attend. “I know something about meditation practice. I’ve been doing it since 1994,” he said. “But as far as the life of the Buddha from a historical perspective, I know very little about it. I’m looking forward to it because I know Evan went to the original sources to glean the story — early, very fundamental sources.”

It didn’t end with that, though. Brenner never stopped researching and revising, and there’s been no shortage of revelations. “The most surprising thing is that it continues to be surprising to me on a weekly basis,” he said. “I feel like I’ve only come to understand the fire sermon in the past couple of weeks, and it’s been in the show the whole time.”

People come up to him after shows and say “The Buddha Play” has changed their lives, Brenner said, but it already changed his.

“When I had this idea, I said, ‘Oh my God, this is a life calling,” he said. “The idea of portraying the Buddha onstage from the first person — I get excited every day about it. Every day I work on it is like the first day I thought of it.”

“The Buddha Play” will be performed from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009, at the YMCA Theater, 820 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge. Tickets are $40. The production is a benefit for the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. Click here for tickets or call (800) 838-3006.