Monday, October 19, 2015

Wetumpka Depot: "Tuesdays With Morrie"

Just a week after the triumphant production of Driving Miss Daisy at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Wetumpka Depot Players are presenting Tuesdays With Morrie, another sensitive and  intermissionless 90-minute play about a long-term relationship that develops over time.

Based on the autobiographical book of the same title by Mitch Albom, and co-written for the stage by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, Tuesdays With Morrie shows Brandeis University sociology professor Morrie Schwartz's influence on Mitch, one of his star students. Morrie [Bill Nowell] is nearing death at 78 years of age, suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease], and Mitch [Lee Bridges] has become a successful sports journalist some sixteen years after he graduated from Brandeis.

A chance viewing of a television interview with Morrie on Ted Koppel's "Nightline" where he learns of Morrie's disease, Mitch decides to visit his aging mentor, in part out of guilt for not having kept a promise to keep in touch after he took his degree. -- A successful career has not brought him happiness,  so Mitch sets off from Detroit to Boston for a one-time meeting, and winds up visiting for fourteen weekends.

As directed by Kristy Meanor on an open stage that uses minimalist set pieces to depict its scenic locations, these two veteran actors create credibly distinct characters in telling Albom's story. -- Morrie's thick Jewish accent and directness in speaking his mind [often in quotable aphorisms that are the gentle teaching moments of the play], and his up-beat demeanor despite the swift progress of ALS, bespeak his compassion for others above his own concerns, and become, in Mr. Nowell's capable portrayal, the triggers for Mitch's reclamation. -- Mr. Bridges shows a range of conflicted attitudes [guilt, angst, indecision] that are influenced and corrected by Morrie's therapeutic advice. The fact that he avoids touchy-feely moments is all the more poignant when he succumbs to tears and an embrace of the old man who is his surrogate father.

In the course of an hour and a half, audiences learn from these two men the value of acceptance, compassion, openness, communication, and love that can bring the happiness we all seek. It might just be "the meaning of life" that Mitch seeks and that Morrie dispenses.