‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by February 20, 2016

‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ is the 1997, bestselling memoire, based on the true story of an American professor by his psychology student, and New Jersey sports journalist, Mitch Albom. As a journalist, Mitch won more awards that anyone else. Here, Albom teams up with Jeffrey Hatcher, a TV scriptwriter who has written numerous genres from ‘Casanova’, to episodes of TV cop ‘Colombo’.

The simple, easy-to-read book was rejected by numerous publishing houses before Doubleday had the courage to try it. With an initial release of 20,000 copies, it had a mention on the Oprah Winfrey Show that ensured the sales rose to 14 million, with an amazing 4 years in the bestselling list. It was also translated into 14 languages.

Many of the Royalties for this play go to neurological charities.

This very moving, hour and a half play is being presented by the Stirling Theatre Company, Stirling Theatre, Morris Place in Innaloo. The performances are each Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8.00 pm until Saturday 5th March. Sunday matinees on February 21st and 28th at 2.00 pm.

 

The set is simple with two 1980 Scandinavian-styled armchairs and a side table. A couple of bentwood chairs it at the side of the stage (props Hillary Readings). The lighting design (Ian Wilson, Jon Lambert, Carole Wilson) was quite complex for the simple set, but worked perfectly, with a warm glow for the intimate scenes and the blue white spotlight for the sad, dramatic scenes.

The soundscape was also intricate and well designed (Kate McIntosh, Jon Lambert, Ian Wilson). The sound effects being produced in stereo at times.

The backstage crew (Kate McIntosh, Allen Blachford, Lisa Watts), dressed in black, were on stage but ‘invisible’, handing the actors new garments and items being mentioned in the storyline.

Lisa Watts’ understated makeup was most convincing, with Morrie looking genuinely old and sick.

 

       We join psychology ‘coach’, Morrie (Alan Kennedy) mid lecture. He spots a bored student, Mitch (Jeff Hansen) creeping out of the door. He calls him back and convinces him that the subject is worth learning, and that he should stay in the class. In fact, Morrie gives him special tuition on Tuesday afternoons.

      Mitch graduates, but is more interested in jazz piano and sports reporting, than psychology. Sixteen years later, Mitch sees Morrie on a television programme, only to discover he has Lou Gehrig’s Disease (almost a blend of MS and Motor Neurone Disease). Remembering that years earlier he had promised to keep in touch, Mitch decides to visit Morrie.

      These occasional visits become a Tuesday routine.

 

This is the first time I have seen this vibrant play. Like many theatregoers, I looked at the topic, and thought ‘This looks like a bundle of fun’ and almost put it to the bottom of my reviewing list. How wrong can one be? The story did have the odd teary moment, but it was filled with humour and a most positive outlook on life. There were plenty of smiles and even a few belly laughs in this unforgettable play.

The emotional script is ingenious in its construction, which made the whole topic palatable and even uplifting. At 90 minutes – without an interval – and being a two-hander with little action, you would expect a slow, tedious play. Once again, wrong. The actors had perfect  pace, and fed off each other. Even when Morrie was very ill, he had this quirky sense of humour and a razor sharp mind. Not once did I check my watch. The whole audience sat in total silence, completely enthralled.

The direction by Ryan Taaffe and his assistant Hillary Readings was outstanding. They developed a tremendous depth to the two men, and then the chemistry between the characters took over. Wonderful performances. The result was a most rewarding night at the theatre.

Could Alan’s performance be the best to be seen this year?