Peggy Sue Dunigan

“Tuesdays with Morrie” resonates with thoughts of loved ones

By - Mar 13th, 2011 02:58 pm
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Donald Devona as Morrie and Stephen Roselin as Mitch, in “Tuesdays with Morrie.” Sunset Playhouse photo by Mark Frohna.

Mitch Albom, jazz pianist turned sportwriter turned memoiris turned playwright, is also a character in his own play, Tuesdays with Morrie. The Sunset Playhouse opened a new production of the play March 11, with Stephen Roselin as Mitch and Donald Devona as Morrie Schwartz, his older friend and one-time Brandeis University mentor. The play, like the best-selling 1997 memoir it’s base on, draws from Albom’s real-life experience of spending every Tuesday with Schwartz, as the latter’s life fades away due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

The play begins with Roselin at black grand piano on a completely cloud white stage. The play begins when he plays Ray Noble’s 1934 The Very Thought of You, one of Morrie’s favorites. The finely tuned 90-minute script relates Mitch’s emotional journey from college days, when the would-be jazz pianist affectionately called Schwartz “coach,” until 16 years after Albom’s graduation. By then, Albom has left music behind and become a well-known sportswriter. But he hasn’t forgotten his old mentor. The two reconnect when Mitch learns of his professor’s diagnosis with debilitating, devastating, fatal ALS. Their Tuesday afternoons together provide instructive notes on how to age, die, forgive, laugh and love.

These weekly conversations cover the life-altering questions Albom still asks of his beloved professor, the eternally optimistic Morrie. Unlike Morrie, who taught sociology for 30 years, Mitch clutters his life with pursuit of fame and fortune instead of embracing the love Morrie believes to be essential to human beings. Their dialogues balance genuine emotion against sentimental proverbs, in a verbal duet that tests the actors’ capabilities.

Devona here reprises the role of Morrie, which he played Soulstice Theatre’s 2009 production. At the Sunset, director Matt Daniels gives Devona less opportunity to display the physical deterioration of ALS, and the Sunset’s Furlan Auditorium grants the audience a greater psychological distance from the ravages of dying. The affable Devona inhabits Morrie with humor and humility, stating his endless aphorisms with sincerity.

Roselin’s Mitch demonstrates a warm chemistry with Devona. When Roselin allows Albom to physically help and show affection for his afflicted friend, the performance strums the heartstrings. American culture resists acknowledging tender male friendships or close encounters with the inevitable conclusion to life. Tuesdays with Morrie confronts both themes with striking clarity and conviction.

Sunset Playhouse records the music that floats through J. Michael Desper’s multi tiered set design, a study in simplicity creating a heavenly atmosphere to these scenes. (Solstice Theatre’s production incorporated live music, with the Albom actor actually performing at the piano.)

Mitch relinquished gave up the piano; Morrie hoped he would eventually reincorporate music into his career. Morrie loved to listen to Mitch as a student studying music, and he does return to playing the piano after Morrie’s death. Whatever one believes about sentimentality, when the melody echoes through the theater in the final minutes, tears flow in the audience.

We’ve all lost someone we’ve loved and see that person’s “face in every flower, your eyes in stars above.” Morrie’s death reminds the audience that forgiving and appreciating loved ones, telling them when the opportunity arises, also relinquishes an egocentric mentality and restores harmony to the soul. Sunset’s Tuesdays With Morrie may profoundly revisit what the song’s last lines musically reveal about a well-lived life: “It’s the very thought of you, my love”

Sunset Playhouse presents Tuesdays with Morrie through April 3. For show times and tickets call 262 782-4430 or visit the company’s website.

Categories: A/C Feature 1, Theater

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