Tuesday, February 26, 2019

TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE at Sierra Madre Playhouse

Mitch Albom's best selling book, TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE has sold over 14 Million copies, having been translated into more than 42 languages around the world.  Albom's literary gifts, including "Five People You Meet In Heaven" and a dozen or so other books, focus on spiritual values including the idea that our connection to others goes well beyond the obvious. 
Jackson Kendall and Larry Eisenberg
   Photo by Gina Long

The Sierra Madre Playhouse is a prolific local theatre company that challenges and entertains with literally one production after another. Halfway professional and half  the feeling of a dedicated community theatre permeates the friendly staff.  The house is small and has the feeling of an old movie house, which it may have been.  All of this to say that a surprise awaits those who head up the road to Sierra Madre for an afternoon or evening of living theatre.

Larry Eisenberg (Morrie) noted that at the very beginning of rehearsals, the set for the show was basically together, giving him and the actor playing Mitch (Jackson Kendall) a firm foundation to create the play.  

"Tuesdays with Morrie" is what folks in the theatre call a 'two hander.'  Two actors mostly in a dialogue. The challenge is to make the story and the action more than just a discussion.  Because the play is based on Albom's book, the gravity of the work may tend to make it static. Thanks to director, L. Flint Esquerra, we see the fluctuating energies of Mitch contrast with the fading energies of Morrie and the lessons that they exchange truly come to life. 

Professor Morrie Schwartz is suffering from ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.The toll of the disease may effect him physically, but the inner man, Mitch's teacher and friend, blossoms with Eisenberg's focused work.  We meet Morrie and Mitch early in their relationship as Mitch, a student at Brandeis University, reluctantly signs up for Morrie's class in Sociology.  Eisenberg brings Morrie's charm and direct way of teaching, leaning toward the Platonic style to life.

Mitch becomes a willing student, but finds that in time, Life has interferred with his integrity.  After completing his studies at Brandeis, he neglected his promise to Morrie to 'stay in touch.'  Many years later, to his chagrin, it was only after seeing a television segment on ABC's Nightline about his former mentor,  now suffering from the disease that would consume him, that he called and went to see his old pal.  The twist comes rather quickly.  Mitch is now busy with his life as a successful sports writer and television reporter when he arrives to have his first visit with Morrie after a lapse of many years.  Morrie is forgiving and hip to the excuses that Mitch makes. This genuine quality of the mentor to his student draws Mitch back into the fold that not only brings the audience to tears, but brings Mitch to his true calling.
Dealing with the death of friends and relatives comes to everyone.  The lessons that Morrie and Mitch discuss are about how we live in the moment and appreciate the time we have Now.  Albom's writing is smooth and a little schmaltzy. Morrie is Jewish and supplies an occasional Yiddish aphorism elevating the charm of the entire piece.   

The audible sniffles from another critic sitting behind me and throughout the theatre bear witness to this delicate and well acted production. Derek Jones's lights, Amanda Knehans' set with incidental piano music on stage by Kendall, all meld to evoke a homey feeling that works. Only one technical issue that I noticed may be corrected by the time the show gets its 'legs', so your job is to see the show and report back if you see what I'm talking about.  

This is a don't miss production of a story you may well have seen or read over time. The dance that Kendall and Eisenberg perform will touch your heart, giving hope for kindness in the world. 

Tuesdays with Morrie (the play)
by Mitch Albomand Jeffrey Hatcher
Sierra Madre Playhouse
87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.
Sierra Madre, CA 91024.
Through Sunday, March 31, 2019
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00
Sundays at 2:30, except March 17, 2019  
Free  Parking behind the theatre

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