Many years ago, I read Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. Before I read it, I had no idea I could sob so hard reading a book. So when I saw that a play based on the book was going to be staged in Singapore – a translated production by Godot Theatre Company from Taiwan was coming to the Esplanade – I asked a few of the regular folks I’d watch plays with if they’d like to watch it too, and when none of them did, I got a ticket for myself.
The play was largely faithful to the original text, which was satisfying, but the translation sapped it of some coherence – for example, the word “love” is more versatile in the English language than its equivalent in Chinese is, and so it was natural in the book that Mitch says to his wise coach Morrie “I love you”, but awkward onstage when he said the same in Chinese.
I enjoyed the chemistry between the two leads, which allowed some of the added humour in the adaptation – judiciously injected, I think, to lighten a weighty subject in a more visceral medium than print – to shine. Morrie has ALS, and accepts that he will one day lose the ability to wipe his own behind, and his mischievous threat to Mitch that he would have to help his old prof do that is played out with great timing and poignancy. In another part of the play, Morrie is having Mitch read out loud the many letters that he has received and dictating replies to them. There is a 21-page letter from a former student who had gone through a lot, and this is played out in a silent scene, with the lights down. Then the words “One hour later” flashed on the screens at the side of the stage, and the two ponder how to start the reply, until Morrie suggests: “Thank you for your long letter.” In the book, the volume of letters is clear from the author’s short summaries of different letters, and this last letter is given a summary lasting an entire paragraph of woe and misery, and it is Morrie’s son who suggests how to start the reply, and Morrie beams at him.
I also enjoyed how the play made me think back. When I first read the book, my bed was in a different place in my room, the headboard against the window. And I remember, in one of my first years of work in my current workplace, I had the opportunity to share my love of the book through giving it to a boss I admired via a Secret Santa gift exchange. We had a small festive celebration at Sentosa, and I remember Andrew playing the guitar. That was altogether a time of bigger possibilities.