Theatre review: Actors Remesh Panicker and Benjamin Chow lend truth and sincerity to Tuesdays With Morrie

Remesh Panicker (left) and Benjamin Chow in Tuesdays With Morrie.
Remesh Panicker (left) and Benjamin Chow in Tuesdays With Morrie.PHOTO: SINGAPORE REPERTORY THEATRE



Singapore Repertory Theatre

Wednesday (Nov 4), 6pm

First a confession: This reviewer is not a fan of the bestselling 1997 memoir by journalist Mitch Albom. It belonged in the trend of bestselling sentimental pabulum which was madly popular towards the end of the 20th century as the landmark date of 2000 loomed.

Oh what a difference 20 years makes. Tuesdays With Morrie, as it turns out, is just the right sort of gently nostalgic panacea for this manic year, especially since the preview night coincided with the bizarrely stressful circus that is the United States presidential election.

Veteran actor Remesh Panicker modulates his resonant rumble and loosens his lanky frame to play the titular Professor Morrie Schwartz, whose Yoda-like aphorisms help Albom to a new understanding of life, love and living.

Benjamin Chow plumbs a deep well of yuppiedom for Albom's go-getting journalist with a fear of intimacy disguised as a typical masculine distaste for the "touchy feely".

There are some shortcomings in the script inherent in the source material. While Albom claims that Morrie was his favourite professor, he promptly breaks his promise to keep in touch. He reunites with his teacher 16 years after graduation, after the latter is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. .

The stage adaptation by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher sticks fairly faithfully to the source material, with chunks of exposition and dialogue lifted verbatim from the book. It is the slow building of the tender rapport between Panicker and Chow, both naturally charismatic performers, which rescues this from the abyss of Hallmark slush.

Panicker, other than an early introductory scene in which he flails about in an amusingly uninhibited dance routine, is mostly confined to a recliner for the entire performance, relying instead on his face and his expressive voice to convey Morrie's quirky charms.

He succeeds in conveying the persistent teacher, who insists on asking more of his students right to the last, and his measured delivery even imbues some of Morrie's maxims with sweet sincerity.

Chow delivers the physical counterpoint to Panicker's still centre, his restless movement around the homey set filled with bookshelves conveying Albom's unease with his seemingly successful life.

By the time the tearful denouement rolls around, these two actors have invested sufficient effort to earn the sentiment. And Morrie's dictum to Albom to forgive everyone, including himself, is a message worth repeating in these divided times.

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What: Tuesdays With Morrie

Where: Singapore Repertory Theatre KC Arts Centre, 20 Merbau Road, Singapore 239035

When: Till Dec 6, Tuesdays to Saturdays, 6pm and 9pm; Sundays, 6pm

Admission: $60 and $55