BWW Review: New Jewish Theatre's Touching TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE
TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE can be a heartbreaking and emotional experience to watch, and some people, who might be especially sensitive on these matters, might be put off at the thought of witnessing a person deteriorate over time due to the ravages of ALS. But they'd be depriving themselves of the chance to learn some of the same life lessons that author Mitch Albom did during the precious time he was able to spend with his former teacher before he passed. The New Jewish Theatre opens their 21st season with a warm, funny, and lovingly rendered production of this play, which only gets more relevant with age, as we have become even more tied down to lifestyles that move so fast, and demand so much of us, that we rarely get the time to actually enjoy them. And, maybe, just maybe, we were really meant for other things. It's a question this play asks.
Albom, a Detroit sports columnist, was channel-surfing when he came across a segment with Ted Koppel on "Nightline," which featured his former Brandeis college professor, Morrie Schwartz, talking about how he was coming to terms with his slow death from Lou Gehrig's disease. Albom, who had neglected a promise he'd made sixteen years before to stay in touch with him, decided to visit his teacher before he passed. It began as a trip made as an act of contrition rather than stemming from any altruistic notion but, in the presence of his "Coach" again, Albom began to realize just how much he'd lost his own way in life while pursuing success.
James Anthony is marvelous as the charming and passionately committed Morrie. He has a lot to say, and he's going to pass on the particular wisdom that's been revealed to him by his current state. Anthony portrays the winsomely good humored professor in a way that's honest and real, without ever becoming mawkish or overly sentimental. He's also quote adept at showing the physical effects that Morrie is experiencing as the disease progresses. It's truly a performance that touches the heart. Andrew Michael Neiman does equally splendid work as Albom, and his intensity is a nice contrast to Morrie's ever-growing frailty. Neiman has a likable quality that comes through even when his character is sometimes misguided in his intentions, and his personal transformation over the course of their meetings is clear.
Anna Pileggi skillfully directs and, since this is a basically two people talking, creates enough movement to keep it from ever becoming static. Instead, everything comes across organic, natural, and engaging. Cristie Johnson's artful scenic design, with a backdrop of a Japanese maple tree, also adds an interesting tilt to the bookcase/wall that might just reflect Morrie's sliding health. Michael Sullivan's lighting complements the action nicely, and Michele Friedman Siler's costumes fit the characters in simple, direct fashion.
Albom's and Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation manages to retain the vast majority of Morrie's insightful aphorisms while working dramatically too. The New Jewish Theatre's presentation is well worth your time, and I highly recommend you see the show, especially if you haven't before, because it has the power to make you think about your own choices in life. TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE runs through October 22, 2017.