Arts & Culture

Sky High Productions soars with Morrie

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:12 PDT, Fri September 1, 2017

Have you ever seen a movie too good to pass up even though it means reading subtitles?

That’s the case with the joint Sky High Productions-Gateway Theatre Pacific Festival’s first offering, Tuesdays with Morrie, a play based on Mitch Albom’s best-selling book of the same title.

While originally written in English, the Hong Kong-based Chung Ying Theatre Company has performed Rupert Chan’s Cantonese translation over 30 times around the world.

Richmond’s Sky High Productions president, Esther Ho, has scoured the world looking for the right film to show in Richmond.

“I have watched over 300 plays around the world to find the two best for this festival.”

Offering a hand of welcome to the English-speaking community, Sky High paid the cost to have the entire play translated back into English, typed into the surtitling system, then run along side the play so that we Anglophones could follow both the words and the action on stage.

The effect was a little odd at first and the screens could have stood to have been a little closer to the action instead of off in the wings. But even the slightly slow refresh rate of the printed dialogue didn’t stop both the English and Cantonese audience members tearing up or laughing at exactly the same points in the play.

What really stood out about this performance was the actual play and the actors’ performances.

Obviously highly skilled professionals, Edmond Lo as Mitch and Chung Ying artistic director Ko Tin Lung, pinch-hitting as Morrie, had comedic timing and their serious acting, finely tuned. Morrie the professor is dying. Mitch, his former much-beloved student, is busy, so very busy, but takes little time to live.

After a terminal diagnosis of ALS, and facing death, Morrie starts to receive weekly visits from Mitch who decides to record their meaning-of-life conversations. In real life, American writer Mitch Albom’s tapes became the foundation for his first book, and venture into a life lived with meaning, Tuesdays with Morrie. (Available at the Richmond Public Library.)

Is this worth seeing? Definitely, but get your tickets fast as Saturday’s 8 p.m. performance at Gateway is the last for this offering. Many at this week’s press conference, including director Ko, suggested that they might like to return.

Next time, he said, they’d like to have Morrie played by an English-speaking Canadian while his younger protégé, Mitch, as Chinese-speaking. This would, as Gateway artistic director Jovanni Sy says, “reflect the mix that is Richmond today.”

It was a thought reflected by many of the leaders at the press conference.

The second play, Travel with Mum, in the Gateway Pacific Theatre Festival runs Sept. 15 and 16. Also in Cantonese with English surtitles, the play addresses the common theme of doing the family roots tour with, and at the instigation of a frail, elderly parent.

Anyone who has undertaken such a journey will, no doubt, be nodding in recognition of the common issues that transcend language and culture.

As an English-speaking Richmondite, I appreciate beyond words this olive branch from a community working so hard at their expense to welcome us to participate in Cantonese-language entertainment.

It was a warm welcome.

And laughing and crying together—what can be more unifying and universal than that?

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