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LEELA: Touching Our Better Selves

Sean Casey Leclaire. Photo by Laurel Hinton.

Where do you think consciousness comes from? Does it begin with activity in the brain or is it a precursor to being? Does science clarify or obscure the truth of our existence? Is there such a thing as self-discovery, of truly finding yourself, the meaning of you? These questions abound in LEELA: Touching Our Better Selves, a solo performance written and performed by Sean Casey Leclaire and produced at TheaterLab. Directed by Padraic Lillis, the show blends poetry, comedy, and personal narrative to ask audiences what we are and how to find meaning and truth in this life. 

Within the performance's first minutes, Leclaire hits the audience with a John Donne sonnet. Leclaire attests to the power of the sonnet, stating that "sonnets saved my life." The sonnet as a form bears an inherent structure, a rule to create by, but Leclaire believes there is much freedom to be found within that structure. Is this a symbol for the order of the universe? Probably. Throughout the performance, Leclaire brings what he calls "the yogic perspective" to North American life, having spent three years in India and more free-roaming throughout Canada. He compares two modes of living: one of the corporate 'yes-man', making it through each day worried about numbers that don't represent anything real, and one of the contemplative, self-fulfilled individual that can see the world as it is and pursue the goodness in it.

Whether or not we can achieve self-fulfillment depends on our ability to connect to our consciousness, which Leclaire has opinions on the nature thereof. He states that scientists have measured the average person has 20,000 thoughts per day, truly meditative people have 5,000 thoughts per day, and stressful corporate employees can have 100,000 thoughts per day and more (hence Leclaire's departure from corporate employment and current career in life coaching for high-stress individuals). However, later, Leclaire denounces the scientific pursuit, seeing it as a means to typify and put specimens and ideas into sorted boxes. He believes the neurological science used to understand how human consciousness works cannot comprehend the concept of consciousness itself, the argument being that the "ocean came before the fish," therefore implying that consciousness is a precursor to being. Now, if we consider consciousness as "one's awareness of existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings' or even as 'the mental activity of which one is aware," wouldn't it all refer back to one's thoughts, which Leclaire called upon scientific study to measure? This performance is heavily based on this consciousness argument and yet uses and denounces science to prove the same point.

None of the performance is as dense as that last paragraph. Leclaire's arguments come from his lived experience and are conveyed in narrative format. The dialogue is paced well. It flows easily through the audience, an undercurrent pulling everyone together. Leclaire is specific enough when he plays different characters to meander fluidly in and out of them. The clarity of the piece speaks to the work of director Padraic Lillis, who recently directed performances in United Solo's 2024 Spring Season. 

Sonnets abound in the performance, printed in the program for audiences to follow along or contemplate later. Seeing as the show steeps itself in Eastern ideas of consciousness and existence, it is surprising that the only poetry featured in the performance is by English-speaking poets. The Sanskrit word Leela refers to a concept of "divine play," referring to the interplay of the forces at work in our lives, which classical Western poetry doesn't have the cultural background to speak on. Nevertheless, the story played on the interplay of self and world alive in its narrative.

LEELA: Touching Our Better Selves is a bundle of questions and a call to action wrapped up into one. It's a pleasure to view such argumentative theatre and engage with it in kind. Those of the scientific persuasion are encouraged to attend and contemplate the power of human perception and our self-defined order.

"LEELA: Touching Our Better Selves"

Written and Performed by Sean Casey Leclaire

Directed by Padraic Lillis

May 2-5, 2024

Theaterlab (357 W 36th St. 3rd floor, NYC)


Rita Frances Welch is… Wait, who’s asking? There are a few answers depending on the context. Rita is A) A New York playwright, actor, and director, B) The owner of 5 discrete copies of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, C) A force of nature, controlled by the tides and called to by the wind, disappearing and returning like the seasons. More material than their author, Rita’s plays have been produced by The Tank, Theatre X, Playwrights Performance, and Rogue Theatre Festival. They hold a B.F.A. in Acting from Shenandoah Conservatory, during which they studied under LAByrinth Theater’s Martha Wollner and Padraic Lillis. Rita’s writing functions as an experiment- a combination of characters in the petri dish of their world, their personal challenges and delusions in a vacuum, isolating for every variable but one: Human nature, which reveals itself every time.



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