Stories for Amah: Because family will always be family

KUALA LUMPUR: “It’s always nice to work on something, leave it for a long time, and come back to see what happens. It’s exciting. I always wanted to come back because theatre was my first love.”

As the only returning cast member of the original 2002 run of Stories for Amah, Kennedy John Michael actually appreciates that the role he plays now has been given more dimension and nuance to make them more relatable and realistic.

He said it also helps that despite not being his contemporaries and peers, he can work just as well with the new, younger cast. “If not for their generosity, I’d be dead in the water,” he says, sounding grateful.

Stories for Amah by Mark Beau de Silva is about the conflicts faced by a woman of biracial heritage regarding her own identity and her family.

The play revolves around Ruth de Souza, a young Serani woman conflicted by the Chinese upbringing on her mother’s side and the Eurasian identity imposed on her by her father.

Having just relocated to Kuala Lumpur, Ruth finds herself in a new place, right after the death of her grandmother, with memories of her childhood in Kulim, then the PDRM barracks with her strict policeman father, flooding back.

These are memories she never shared with her Chinese grandmother but which she is aware has carved a different side to her personality.

The play, first staged in 2002 to critical and commercial acclaim, was restaged a year later, again to full houses.

In addition, it garnered five nominations at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards, an impressive achievement in itself, especially for a theatre newbie at the time.

Cast members of ‘Stories for Amah’ (L-R): Kennedy John Michael, Ho Lee Ching and Anrie Too share a light moment before a rehearsal.

Describing Stories for Amah to the uninitiated, Ho Lee Ching, who plays Ruth, told FMT that the play is about becoming something, about finding one’s self and one’s place in the world.

“If you’re a bit different, if you feel different in this society, it’s a show you should watch.”

Anrie Too concurred, saying that despite the play being specifically about the identity of a half-Chinese, half-Eurasian woman, the stories about her loved ones and the relationships she has with them are relatable to people no matter their ethnicity.

The role of Ruth’s father is played by Michael who says he based the character on his real-life father, a military man.

“He brought me up strictly. My father could never see who he really was when I was growing up. When he came to watch the play, it was quite shocking to him. ‘Was I like that? Did I do all that?’”

Director Joe Hasham (in black shirt) and cast members during a rehearsal.

Interestingly enough, the father of playwright de Silva was a policeman himself and like Michael’s father, was surprised when faced with this depiction of himself in the play.

Too, who plays Ruth’s mother, said it is a struggle to play the role with the knowledge that her character is a real person. “It’s interesting, it’s a great challenge, it makes me quite excited.”

“You realise that the words she says, she really said them. This whole life story of hers is depicted in a span of 80 minutes. You only have those few moments that this is a real person who went through all these things, to relate to her.”

In an age of “crappy” and “garbage” television shows, says Michael, Stories for Amah is a must-watch for local audiences because it is a rare, truly local story at a time when Malaysian television has deteriorated from its heyday in the sixties and seventies.

The play in essence is about the importance of family and the unbreakable bonds that tie family members together for eternity.

‘Stories for Amah’ will be playing at KLPAC, Sentul Park from June 27-30.

“There’s a line that I say,” said Ho. “’In the end, family will always be family.’ Families are not easy. You are stuck with them whether you like them or not. But because it’s your family, you have to find a way to love them. You have a bond with them. You are connected anyway.”

“Stories for Amah” will be playing at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) from June 27 to 30.

Tickets can be bought online at www.proticket.com.my or physically at KLPAC’s Box Office or any ProTicket outlet.

Visit www.klpac.org for more information.