Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Tuesdays with Morrie
Desert Rose Playhouse
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's reviews of The Real Nut: The True Story of the Nutcracker and My Three Angels, Rob's review of Peter Pan and Stephanie's review of Wish Upon a Star: Unauthorized Intimate Reflections with Walt Disney


Bryan Durden and Christopher Chase
Photo by Elizabeth Goldfarb
While Tuesdays with Morrie may seem like a story about the trials of a fatal disease and those who care for the dying, it's not. It's not a story about deep friendship either. Nor is it a story about the importance of remembering what's important in life. It may look like a tale about all those platitudes, and it takes a cursory look at those subjects, but it's actually a story about the transformative power of mentorship.

Tuesdays with Morrie began as a short and very successful book by Mitch Albom. The story focuses Albom's time spent with his Brandeis sociology professor Morrie Schwartz during Schwartz's last days. Schwartz suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease), a fatal, degenerative condition of the nervous system. The story was adapted for the stage by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher.

When the book was published in 1997, my father was dying—very slowly—of emphysema. Because I was dealing with my dad's illness, it made sense to read the book. I thought it was a lovely depiction of an end-of-life connection that was lived out with honesty and compassion. I don't think I learned too much about human relations, but it helped me understand how important it is to elevate that connection when someone is passing out of your life.

On one of my visits to my dad, I noticed a copy of Albom's book on his coffee table. "Hey, I just read this. What did you think of it?" I asked. My dad sneered. "Everybody's telling me to read it, so I started it. But I didn't finish it. Why the hell would I want to read this damn thing?" My father didn't appreciate the gory details of Morrie's physical demise. That's perfectly understandable, since my dad was dealing with his own physical demise. But the book's not about physical demise.

Needless to say, the story hits close to home for me. I had my own Tuesdays with Morrie experience with my father in his last days. It was life changing, and it helped me see the importance of honesty in all relationships.

When Albom was a student, he developed a close relationship with his professor. They frequently had lunch together, and Albom took every one of Schwartz's classes. After leaving school, Albom became distracted by career and family. Then one night he saw Schwartz interviewed on "Nightline" and decided to reconnect with this man who had been so important to him in his college days. So Albom flies to Massachusetts from Detroit, where he worked as a sports columnist, to visit Schwartz every Tuesday.

The play opens with the college relationship, then quickly moves to the reconnection on Tuesdays. In this Desert Rose Playhouse production, Bryan Durden plays Albom. The last time I saw Durden was as Shrek. This role is a tad different. Durden brings across Albom as a rumpled and harried 30-something who has decided—against all that's happening in his life—to give one day a week to his dying mentor. Durden is well cast as Albom and he does a particularly nice job of delivering the tender emotions that build as Schwartz deteriorates.

At first, Christopher Chase as Schwartz seemed an odd casting choice by director Michael Montroy. Chase's physical resemblance to Schwartz is miles off. But the play's not about physical veracity, it's about depicting the relationship between the two men, so it doesn't matter. And Chase certainly makes the role his own, showing Schwartz's indomitable zest for life even as well as his body falls apart.

The story is a wonderful exploration of a deep connection between men. The father/son or student/mentor connection lives at the heart of the story. Interestingly, we don't see they typical role reversal as Schwartz deteriorates. Schwartz remains a mentor to Albom—on life and love and commitment and being present—until his last breath, always drawing Albom out and poking at his weak spots until Albom admits and faces his own difficulties.

This is where the actors are particularly good. Schwartz keep pushing Albom to sort out what's important and ditch the petty competitive career battles that burden his potential. Up until the very end, Schwartz needles Albom on what's important, and Albom keeps coming back for more. The last scene is a necessarily emotional moment of real tears. Yet this is not a cathartic story. It's a story about connection, living a conscious life, and facing difficulties fully in the present moment.

The staging is simple; likewise with the sound and lighting. That's appropriate. Everything on stage is focused on these two actors as Schwartz effectively wakes Albom from his dreary competitive race and shows him what life is really about—even as Schwartz himself is dying.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by Michael Montroy, plays at the Desert Rose Playhouse through December 25, 2016. Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for students, seniors, and ATC members. For reservations, call 505-881-0503 or go online at www.desertroseplayhouse.net.


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