The Arts Club Theatre Company’s latest production, Tuesdays with Morrie, based on the international bestselling book, makes a return to the Granville Island Stage with great sentimentality and soul thanks, for the most part, to the performances of the two leads.
Returning to the Arts Club after a successful run in 2006, audiences again get the opportunity to not only see this wonderful piece on death and dying but are also treated to 88 year old Antony Holland reprising his role as Morrie which won him a Jessie Richardson Award for his original portrayal in 2006.
After becoming Morrie Schwartz’s star pupil and developing a very strong bond in college, Mitch (Warren Kimmel) proceeds to disappear from Morrie’s life for 16 years before one night seeing Morrie on Ted Koppel’s Nightline talking being afflicted with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”). Mitch makes a re-connection with Morrie (always on a Tuesday, hence the title) and Mitch begins to record the wisdom of the man he called “Coach” until Morrie’s ultimate death.
While Morrie continues on his journey towards death (there is no cure for ALS), it would have been very easy for Morrie to become bitter and resentful. But rather than wallow in his own mortality, Morrie rises above it and with the exception of a few moments of personal sadness and self-pity, Morrie bravely faces death head-on and helps ensure his years of gathered wisdom are passed onto Mitch (and through him to others).
Set Designer Ted Roberts and Lighting Designer Marsha Sibthorpe work well together helping with the transitions between the scenes in a very simple set while Director Bill Millerd helps actors Holland and Kimmel stop just enough above the line to prevent the piece from spiraling into a soap opera.
I admit that I have never read the book that Tuesdays with Morrie, is based on, so I have no way of knowing how true it is to author Mitch Albom’s original (he also co-wrote this stage version with Jeffrey Hatcher). I do know, however, that as theatre, while certainly looking to tug at the heart, it also serves up some very witty dialogue and stands as a nice tribute to all those that had that special someone during school but who were never properly thanked for making a difference.
(Thanks, Mrs Gillis!).
I did think the Arts Club was being a tad manipulative in selling packages of tissues in the lobby of the theatre before the show. My partner and I, who have both been known to have a good cry as the bus pulls away on Extreme Makeover Home Edition, didn’t quite get there although there were plenty of sniffles in the audience.
But I suppose herein lies the greatest pleasure of the show: some of us walked away with a smile on our faces while others cried but we all walked away knowing that indeed “death is not a dirty word” and thanks to Morrie we’re all okay with that in the end.