Tuesdays with Morrie at Soulstice
Theater lives wherever and whenever audience members take their seats — no matter how many remain unfilled. This phenomenon occurred at Soulstice Theatre’s production of Tuesdays With Morrie,which opened on Friday night at the Academy Studio Theater in the Marian Center. Actors Don Devona and Matt Zembrowski brought Mitch Albom’s bestselling novel gently to life and induced a few tears from the audience.
Soulstice Artistic Director Cher Manny directed this version of Tuesdays with Morrie (adapted for the stage by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher) with restraint, as it relates to the autobiographical rekindling of a friendship between college professor Morrie Schwartz and his now-very successful student Mitch Albom. Mitch returns to visit his mentor after 16 years when he discovers the professor suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Scelrosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This begins a weekly pilgrimage to Boston where he meets with Morrie every Tuesday afternoon.
Morrie Schwartz becomes the production’s focus, with a wildly optimistic and caring personality and sentences that inevitably become proverbs. This could have played trite and sentimental over the 90-minute performance, but instead Don Devona portrays the man with acute sensitivity. Devona also manages to capture poignant realism, like the physical decline that accompanies ALS — tremulous hands, breathless speech, inability to accomplish simple tasks and finally complete immobility. The actor’s body as Morrie deteriorates before the audience’s eyes.
Matt Zembrowski’s version of journalist Mitch, while completely likable, appears less believable as a hard-driving, Type A success seeker — traits necessary for the character. Consequently, this reduces the emotional growth Mitch experiences, which parallels Morrie’s physical degeneration. Yet, Zembrowski’s piano playing and vocals in accompanying monologues and finale compensate for this less dramatic performance.
In the second act, the play accurately demonstrates a genuine love, tenderness and forgiveness that two men can still express to one another within a healthy, non-sexual relationship.
As a reviewer who has watched several individuals deteriorate in sickness, including a 12-year-old child stricken with severe encephalitis, Morrie’s words resound with clarity. Death becomes the ultimate last journey each individual faces. Although this play provides a humorous opportunity to confront this uncomfortable reality, it is still one that American culture desperately tries to avoid.
Tuesdays With Morrie reminds the audience that disease and death surprise people — completely by happenstance. Cherished loved ones will leave this earthly life. Memories may comfort those who remain. Soulstice Theatre presents this accomplished production that validates this truth even with a minimal budget. The moving performance reiterates what Morrie believes, when he tells Mitch, “Those wise and wonderful things we say at the end we should say all our lives.”
Soulstice Theatre produces Tuesdays with Morrie now through Oct. 10. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the ALS Foundation. For information and advance tickets call: 414-431-3187.