Thoughts & Musings

School of Life

2nd Story’s poignant production of “Tuesdays with Morrie” is a touching examination of life’s journey told through the eyes of some very astute observers.

by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
  • 15th June 201615/06/16
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There’s an old maxim that the obituaries of the newspaper are considered the sports pages to the Irish. If that is the case, then a popular sports columnist and broadcaster named Mitch — played with great aplomb by Jeff DeSisto in 2nd Story Theatre’s moving production of “Tuesdays with Morrie” — should feel right at home. But he doesn’t.

That could be because Mitch isn’t Irish; but more than likely it has something to do with the idea that Mitch really doesn’t know how to live — much less die.

Learning just how these two seminal events in human existence are related is what author Mitch Albom’s memoir is all about. The play reveals some of what Mitch experiences when he reconnects with Morrie (Jay Burke), a former college professor, and witnesses his mentor’s decline and eventual death to Lou Gehrig’s disease. The story is as riveting as any seventh game of a World Series and far more substantive.

Scenic artists Candis Dixon and Jillian Eddy’s set design is the perfect symbol for a life well-lived. Dominated by a tall, battered and broken oak tree upstage that is visible from Morrie’s room, the set serves as a metaphor for life. The tree has three main branches: one is broken, leaving a jagged stump; another reaches high into the sky, and the third flares off into the distance.

Director Mark Peckham ingeniously uses the tree as a third character in the play. Without speaking a word, the tree’s dominating presence is used to mirror life. When Morrie and Mitch speak of their broken lives, the shattered branch of the oak cannot be ignored. When Morrie tells Mitch (here I’m paraphrasing) that in nature things are always most beautiful just before they die, the glorious colors of the oak’s autumn leaves show brilliantly against the black of the night sky. The mighty oak has withstood the ravages of time, but it too will someday die.

As for the human characters in the play, DeSisto is perfectly cast in the role of the hard-charging sports reporter who has too much invested in life to worry about death. Burke, as the philosophical professor Morrie, is no less effective. Morrie uses the Socratic Method to teach Mitch about life and love with questions such as: Are you at peace with yourself? Are you as human as you ought to be? In the beginning, Mitch cannot even understand such questions. He has much to learn. Through Morrie, who is probably as good at his craft as was Socrates, Mitch has to examine his life.

Burke and DeSisto make a fine pair, bringing to their relationship the feel of a real family. There is much irony in Albom’s script — once you learn how to die, you can learn how to live. Taking is dying; living is giving, and much more. Peckham sees to it that his actors never drop a line or miss a cue so that all Albom’s words of wisdom are perfectly delivered.

2nd Story’s poignant production of “Tuesdays with Morrie” is a touching examination of life’s journey told through the eyes of some very astute observers. The play is uplifting, humorous and intelligently written and performed. In addition to being marvelous entertainment for the whole family, it is as well a thought-provoking commentary on matters of life and death.

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