2nd Story’s Tuesdays with Morrie
By Kathie Raleigh, Woonsocket Call
2nd Story Theatre is opening its three-show summer season with a heartfelt production of “Tuesday’s with Morrie,” sports journalist Mitch Albom’s memoir about his visits with Morrie Schwartz during his former college professor’s end-stage battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Directed by Mark Peckham, this production has humorous moments and sad ones, but neither ever feels forced. The sentiment is honest, so you leave the theater feeling moved, not manipulated.
Professor Morrie Schwartz had been a mentor to Albom at Brandeis University, but the two hadn’t seen one another since Albom’s graduation. When the journalist happened upon a Ted Koppel television interview with Morrie about living while dying, Albom finally made good on a promise made 16 years earlier to stay in touch.
What he thought would be a one-time visit turned into a series of 14 visits, on Tuesdays, that changed his outlook on life.
The story started out as a 1997 book penned by Albom, was made into a television movie in 1999 and adapted for the stage by Albom and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. This story is well suited to the theater where the audience responds to the live actors, especially in 2nd Story’s small DownStage space.
In this setting, Morrie’s penchant for aphorisms, pithy as they are, comes across as thoughtful but spontaneous conversation. That’s due in large part to Jay Burke’s impeccable performance as Morrie. Burke embodies Morrie’s humanity, his sense of humor and his sense of finality, including the indignities of his debilitating disease.
Jeff DeSisto is just as pitch-perfect as Mitch, driven by ambition and success but unaccustomed to setting aside time for anything except getting ahead in his career. That is until his Tuesdays with Morrie, where he begins to absorb the older man’s wisdom.
“Dying is just one thing to be sad about. Living unhappily, that’s another matter,” Morrie pointedly tells Mitch.
Adding interest to the give and take of this two-man performance is Max Ponticelli’s set design. A wall of windows and a tree dropping its colorful fall foliage frame the space that represents Morrie’s home and arguably serve as metaphors for Morrie’s stage of life. The lighting is as warm and intimate as the story.
The performance is about an hour and a quarter long, meeting Morrie’s criteria about living and dying: “Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hang on too long.” 2nd Story’s got that right.