It was a pleasure to have the chance to revisit a book that I had enjoyed in my youth, and I feel that SevenThirty Productions has done a wonderful job of performing Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher’s stage adaptation of Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie.
For those who haven’t read the 1997 bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie is the autobiographical tale of Mitch Albom’s experiences as he reconnects with his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who has been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Where Mitch had once seen an energetic man who loved to dance, he is now faced with someone who can no longer shift in his seat without assistance.
However, despite being close to death, Morrie has refused to give up on living, unlike Mitch, who has given up on his own dreams to tow the corporate line. As fate reunites these two, Morrie finds himself teaching his final class to one of his favourite pupils, a class on life, love, death and everything in between, so that Mitch just might learn to cherish the wealth he doesn’t need a paycheck to prove.
Although it’s been a while since I’ve read the book, I want to say that this play diverges from the original text in its focus on the narrative aspects of the story (with more of an emphasis on what the character of Mitch Albom does, says and thinks), whereas the book made more room for Morrie’s personal musings. Because of this shift, while Tom Charlebois’ Morrie Schwartz is certainly an emotional and endearing figure, his role as a teacher becomes secondary. The wisdom he could have imparted stems more from Mitch’s own revelations; the questions that supposedly fueled their visits go unasked and unanswered, their profundity abbreviated into assumed conversations, when this, to my recollection, was the most fascinating part of the original story.
But it’s an unfair to judge harshly on this point. Even then, this is the only quasi-negative thing I have to say about this performance.
From the very beginning, there is a strength to this performance, as you see the stage manager slowly remove from the spotlight the items that represent Morrie’s losing battle with ALS: a cane, a walker, a wheelchair, a bed. From the very get go, you may know how this story ends, but don’t think that it won’t surprise you.
Together, Charlebois and David Whiteley, as Mitch Albom, forge an unforgettable and loving bond with one another before our very eyes. Even before you see them interact, you can feel it in Albom’s recollections of his dear friend, his passions and that vital spark Morrie refused to let go of. While Whiteley’s impersonation of a younger Mitch Albom is a bit goofy at times, it serves to highlight how unprepared this youth is for the pain and death that will come to haunt his life.
Slowly, you see Morrie begin to break down the defences that Mitch has built up around himself, reminding him of the importance of connecting other people, both physically and emotionally, even if it means making yourself vulnerable to the pain of loss. While many things have revealed themselves to Morrie on his deathbed, it’s still a mystery to him as to why people think they don’t need these things in the prime of life, why they consider it a weakness when it should be their strength.
This two man show, with its simple set design and clever use of lighting and projections, offers the audience a chance to really become involved in the story of Mitch and Morrie, to empathize which each new development in Morrie’s inevitable plight.
When you see Mitch lift Morrie from his chair and lay him on the bed, exhausted from his losing battle with ALS, the familial love that you can sense between these two men is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s honestly one of the few plays in which I’ve seen the audience actually get teary, the emotion is so real.