Arts Hong Kong Preview Theatre

Arts of Hong Kong 2022: Love à la Zen by Hong Kong Repertory Theatre

Photo by Lee Wai Leung

The Hong Kong Repertory Theatre launches its 45th anniversary season with Raymond To’s Love à la Zen. The play enjoyed a sold-out run at its 1996 premiere and was named one of the Top Ten Popular Productions at the Hong Kong Drama Awards. Two years later, Loveà la Zen enjoyed a successful re-run.

24 years on, HKRep brings this classic to the stage anew, directed by HKRep Assistant Artistic Director Fung Wai Hang, delighting the audience with sagacious humour and wisdoms about love and impermanence. Love à la Zen features Eddy Au Yeung, Kalok Chan, Luk Ka Ki, Trickle Choi and Eva Mak, along with special guests Alice Lau and Pang Hang Ying, with performances running from 16th to 31st July at the Hong Kong City Hall Theatre.

Love à la Zen is about Sau (played by Kalok Chan), who disappears after years of dating Jing (played by Luk Ka Ki). Tired of the mundane world, he enters a monastery where his friend Master Chi Yuen (played by Eddy Au Yeung) presides. At a church wedding, a bridegroom Ching (played by Trickle Choi) falters in his vows, provoking his bride Mei Na (played by Eva Mak) to call off the ceremony. As Sau brings Ching along to study with Chi Yuen, Jing refuses to accept her lover’s change of heart, takes Mei Na to the temple, even flirts with Chi Yuen! Can these characters find inner peace when a monk is embroiled in the romantic skirmishes of two couples?

Playwright Raymond To admits that Love à la Zen was among the hardest of his plays to write. He states, “Before penning Love à la Zen, I had already written numerous popular works like I Have a Date with SpringThe Mad Phoenix and The Umbrella Story. I felt I’d exhausted all potential themes. When I contemplated how to break out of this conundrum, I thought of combining Zen and our views on love into one script. I worked hard to complete this script, because as a playwright, I must furnish reason and logic to link Zen with love, which was a difficult task. I was delighted when the play premiered in 1996 and became such a popular success.”

Love à la Zen follows two couples as they examine love through Zen philosophy and ponder the meaning of life. Director Fung Wai Hang explains: “Among Raymond To’s many works, I am partial to Love à la Zen. In such times of emotional and social turmoil, I’m taken with the notion of how anyone can ‘observe in peace.’ That’s why I chose this work.”

During Love à la Zen’s 1996 world premiere run, Ko Hon Man played Master Chi Yuen while Pang Hang Ying played Mei Na. Joining the cast of young actors, these two veterans pass along their experience and conviction. “Twenty-six years ago, I played the role of Master Chi Yuen, marking my first decade at the HKRep,” says Ko. “Now watching Eddy Au Yeung as Chi Yuen, I appreciate how he’s going through the same experience in moulding the character, learning and living the philosophy of Zen. The role seems easy, but it’s actually hard to grasp. How does one play a Zen master and yet achieve dramatic effect? I’m very happy to travel along this path with him.”

Pang Hang Ying plays Mei Na’s mother in this production. She reminisces, “Twenty-six years ago, I played the daughter. Now I play the mother, both in real life and on stage. The probability of being cast in both roles can’t be that high! I consider this good fortune and serendipity. Raymond To’s scripts are filled with human warmth. I eagerly anticipate how the young actors interpret the script’s sentiments. You ask me how does a mother today view her daughter; I wonder what the daughter of yesteryear thinks about her mother. The world around us may change, but our original aspirations remain. This applies to the stage and to life.”

Love à la Zen plays from 16th to 31st July 2022 at Hong Kong City Hall Theatre. Tickets available here

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