Friday, March 11, 2011

Tuesdays with Morrie by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom.  Ensemble Theatre directed by Mark Kilmurry at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, March 10-12, 2011.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 10

I have to eat humble pie tonight.  Each of us responds to what we see from our own different perspectives. 

Watching this play in my role as theatre critic, I saw a predictable moralistic sentimental story using the death of Professor Morrie Schwartz from Lou Gehrig’s disease as a contrived device, sugar-coated with carefully managed laughs.

I also saw a production highly skilfully designed, directed and acted.  Daniel Mitchell faced a difficult task to avoid over-playing the Professor, but maintained a disciplined balance between making the inevitable one-liners into cartoon jokes and playing the physical horror of the disease for the horror rather than empathy.  Glenn Hazeldine, as Mitch Albom, who wrote the original story that the play was developed from, had to switch regularly between playing Mitch as if in a realistic relationship with Morrie – every Tuesday – and playing Albom, the narrator of his story.   By using stylised posture, movement and voice, Hazeldine clearly delineated each role.  What otherwise might have been a repetitive series of question and answer in a lesser actor became a dramatic dialectic, giving the play more appearance of depth than the content of the text deserves.

However, for most of the audience – senior students from the two Canberra Grammar Schools – my perspective was well outside of the range of their radar.  Their attention was focussed in the immediate heat of the emotion, not the distant cool of criticism.  They were bubbling with excitement in the foyer beforehand anticipating seeing Sydney actors perform the play they had been working on.  The actors’ skills did not disappoint.  The young absorbed the performance as if it were music, directly responding with laughter, shock and tears, as well as a resounding standing ovation for the actors at curtain call.  For them this was great theatre, and who am I to deny their experience?

Like Mitch, who failed to “keep in touch” with his favourite professor for 16 years, I have not taught College students for 16 years and realised tonight how much I have become out of touch with the immediacy of people’s feelings at that transition from teenage to adulthood.  Tuesdays with Morrie may not be my play, but this production certainly made it this audience’s dramatic experience.  The Q is to be congratulated for including it in this year’s program, and I hope it foreshadows more Ensemble productions in future.