Thursday, January 06, 2005

Tuesday's With Morrie (Cleveland Play House)

‘TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE’--a good visit at the Cleveland Play House

Several months ago I heard Mitch Albom speak about his beliefs, attitudes and books Tuesday With Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. He talked about how his reconnection with his former Brandeis University sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, and how it made him reexamine who he was and how he was proceeding through life.

If you have read Albom’s books, you know that he is a writer who combines pop psychology and emotional triggers to get his points across. He writes of topics, such as death, which could be daunting and scary, in words that are easily digested and thought-provoking.

‘TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE,’ now on stage at the Cleveland Play House, is the play version of the book. It tells the story of how Albom, now a well-known sports reporter, discovers Schwartz is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. Albom, whether out of guilt or need, agrees to meet with Schwartz every Tuesday and, in doing so, learns lessons about love and understanding. He discovers that something is missing from his success-driven life.

The play, as the book, is based on many of Morrie's pronouncements including: "Love is the only rational act," and "There's two big F words in the English language and one of them is forgive." Other gems that the audience gets to consider are: “Are you at peace with yourself? Are you trying to be as human as you can?” and “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” Albom caps off his mentor’s ideas with the haunting, “the kind of things you say to someone at the end are the things you should say everyday.” These may sound pop-psych and hokey, but they are the reason that the book held its place on the New York Times best seller list for four years.

In its off-Broadway production the play was greeted with such reviewer comments as: “No matter how well you know the story, the play makes it more vivid, more shattering, more humorous.” "I was unprepared for how moving and powerful it turned out to be.” And, “A love song to a wise old professor who taught a young man how to feel."

The CPH production is well-conceived by director Seth Gordon. It is nicely paced, doesn’t become too sappy and plays all the right musical notes....literally and figuratively. Charles Kartali displays the right level of guilt and angst as Albom. The last scene, when he finally allows himself to feel emotion, is finely honed. Bernie Passeltiner is the perfect curmudgeon to portray Morrie. His eyes twinkle, he nags with delight, he stands on his philosophical soap box with gentle power, he dies with dignity. The only flaw in his performance was during the last scene in which he was supposedly totally paralyzed but gestured with his hands which distracted from the illusion of this brilliant man trapped inside a frozen body.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The fine CPH cast does its job of bringing Albom’s message to life. Whether you like ‘TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE’ is going to be based on your tolerance for the tender but preachy concept.