Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tuesdays With Morrie - The Q

Director: Liz Bradley
Script: Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom (based on the book by MitchAlbom)
Review by John Lombard

Successful TV sports journalist Mitch Albom is at the home of his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz. Morrie has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). He only has a few months left before his lungs shut down, but is determined to live with joy until the very end. An appearance on Nightline by Morrie has reunited the former teacher and student, who renew their relationship in a series of Tuesday meetings.

Today Mitch has brought Morrie one of his favourite treats, lunch from the co-op. Morrie tries to dig in, but can't work the spoon well enough to get food into his mouth. To save face, Morrie has Mitch take away the food for later. Morrie is genuinely anguished, but frames this as the natural course of life: we start out being fed by others, it's appropriate we finish the same way. And at least he can still wipe his own ass.

Tuesdays With Morrie deals with two big questions: How are we to live? And how should we face death? Morrie (an excellent, heart-rending performance by Graham Robertson) isn't blithely happy - he regularly endorses the importance of a good cry. But he is sensitive and awake to life, finding the meaning of life less in work than in relationships with others. In one touching scene Mitch brings his singer wife to visit and and Morrie is enraptured by her performance, leaving Mitch to wonder whether he should feel more. Morrie is engaging not because he has achieved a Zen-like detachment from life, but because he is fully human - and that means embracing both joy and grief.

Mitch (Dave Evans) acts as narrator of the story, simultaneously part of scenes and commenting on them. At the start he dumps his biography and character arc on the audience - was a gentle guy, tried to be a musician for awhile, gave it up because he preferred being successful, now re-entering the life of his former teacher who will teach him important life lessons, possibly restore his interest in music. It's too creaky to be convincing, and in early scenes I wondered whether Mitch was completely trustworthy - perhaps he just wanted to use Morrie's new celebrity to further his own career. However Evans' Mitch is essentially a very gentle person: not corrupted by success as much as lightly calloused. Evans successfully conveys Mitch's hardening, and also how as this shell dissolves he rediscovers both love and pain.

But Morrie is always the star of the show. The play and the book it is based on are a record of the wisdom (and no small share of wit) of a great teacher, and his many homilies are both inspiring and amusing. Graham Robertson invests the character with so much love and humour that even when Morrie's disease has him trapped in chairs and beds we are irresitibly drawn to his face, forgetting everything else on stage. The play does cleave too closely to the structure of its source material, and often feels more like a novel read on stage than a fully realised drama. But this play doesn't need to be more than it is: sometimes the truths of life are too obvious to be seen clearly, and they need to be retold.  This play nourishes us by reconnecting us with those simple truths.