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‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ touches on the meaning of life

Colton Dennis and Jim Johnson were outstanding as Morrie Schwartz and Mitch Albom in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie,’ a play co-authored by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom and co-produced at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center in Merced by The MAC and Gallo Center Repertory Company.
Colton Dennis and Jim Johnson were outstanding as Morrie Schwartz and Mitch Albom in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie,’ a play co-authored by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom and co-produced at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center in Merced by The MAC and Gallo Center Repertory Company.

Performed at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center (“MAC”) over the weekend was “Tuesdays with Morrie”, a moving and thought-provoking play created by Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher based on an autobiographical story written by Albom about his reunion with his old professor at Brandeis University, Morrie Schwartz.

It starred Colton Dennis, Director of the MAC, as Mitch Albom and Jim Johnson as Professor Morrie Schwartz, and was directed by Heike Hambley of Merced Shakespeare Fest fame.

Hambley introduced the theater piece, saying, “It’s based on a best-selling book about a professor and his student.”

She explained that Johnson and Dennis performed “Tuesdays with Morrie” at the Gallo Center in Modesto to rave reviews in April and then took it to Mexico for performances there, before coming to Merced.

The story starts out when Albom, a thoughtful young man, forms a bond with Morrie Schwartz, his Sociology professor.  Schwartz, who enjoys his role as mentor to his students, encourages Albom to follow his passion for music as a career.

After graduation, Albom becomes so busy making the grade as a successful sports journalist that he forgets about his promise to keep in touch until 16 years has passed and he inadvertently comes across a show on “Nightline” where news anchor Ted Koppel interviews Schwartz, who is now facing a terminal illness, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Schwartz has just made a choice between withdrawing from the world or living for as long as he has left, and chooses living fully.  Albom calls, and the two make a plan for Albom to fly to Massachusetts the next Tuesday to interview Schwartz.

When they meet, the old professor is able to talk about his own death matter-of-factly with Albom.  Because Schwartz is nearing the end of his life but still has so much of himself to give, Albom decides to make his simple visit a weekly meeting.  It is clear that something is missing in Albom’s hectic life because he feels compelled to return to Schwartz’ side week after week until the end.

At first, Albom is awkward and resists hugging, but Schwartz, who loves “a good cry”, wins him over, and they begin to embrace fondly upon saying goodby.

Schwartz tells Albom, “Dying is one thing to be sad about.  Living unhappily is something else.”

He defines regret as “when you’ve lived your life the wrong way, chasing after the wrong things”.

The play, punctuated with comic one-liners, asks a series of tough questions (Are you at peace with yourself?  What do you hate so much about being touchy-feely?).

Eventually, Albom is restored into a more touchy-feely guy who recognizes he lost touch with his true self in his desperation to achieve his career goals and needs to shift his priorities.  After Schwartz’ passing, Albom fully understands the lesson being taught – – it is that by living fully and by placing a priority on giving of yourself and making memories with others, you will always live on in their hearts.

The performances by Johnson and Dennis were dynamic and superlative, and the humor was delivered with great comedic timing.

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