Quest Theaterworks’ stated mission is to present theater that “engages, entertains and enlightens.” Its well-done current production of “Tuesdays with Morrie” completely fulfills all three goals. The play will grab and hold you for its 90-minute duration.
The script of “Tuesdays with Morrie” was written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom, based on the best selling autobiographical book of the same title by Mitch Albom, an accomplished journalist driven solely by his career ambitions. Sixteen years after he graduated college, Mitch sees his revered professor, Morrie Schwartz, on television talking about his impending death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Mitch flies from Michigan to Massachusetts to see Morrie, and what begins as a single obligatory visit turns into a weekly journey filled with lessons on life and death.
“Tuesdays” is a poignant, witty, sad and very real meditation on friendship, love and death. Mitch is completely removed from his own feelings and humanity. Morrie was always in touch with these same qualities, and slowly, during the two men’s multiple visits, Morrie is able to imbue Mitch with the gentling and wisdom that come with opening up to another’s love and needs.
Actor Michael Moerman looks and speaks exactly as I imagine that Morrie would look and speak. Moerman is Morrie. Coincidentally, both men were born into poor Jewish families on the very same street in the Bronx, and both became professors. Moerman, now 78, portrays Morrie at age 78. But more than these coincidences contributes to Moerman’s channeling of his character. With a twinkle in his eye and an impish grin, Moerman makes the warmth and wisdom of Morrie believable. And as Morrie’s health deteriorates, Moerman’s characterization of these changes feels authentic.
Jed Dixon, who can sing and dance or perform in dramatic roles equally well, imparts the driven and cool Mitch with the appropriate early bemusement, gradually opening to the warmth and life lessons instilled by Morrie — learn to be present in your life, do things you love, don’t fear death. Dixon effectively shows how Mitch slowly realizes that his need to visit Morrie each week is greater than Morrie’s need to see him.
Scott Ewing’s direction of his actors is innovative. The theater space is long and narrow with audience members sitting along both sides. Ewing’s use of the entire length of this space, including both ends, enhances the visual drama. He has his actors move up and down that length, variously facing different directions so that the entire audience feels included. And the creative use of a cranked turntable for the several scenes located in the center of the long space allows the audience to partially see both characters’ faces.
“Tuesdays” is filled with life lessons taught gently. It has humor, affection and sadness. But ultimately, it has joy for a well-lived long life and for a young life that can change. Quest Theaterworks deserves kudos for the excellent presentation of this moving story. See it at the Oddfellows Hall in Grass Valley through Nov. 24.
Hindi Greenberg, through her business consulting with lawyers unhappy with their careers, wishes she could put them in contact with Morrie so that they, too, can learn to “do things you love and be present in your life.” Those are great life lessons for all of us.