'Tuesday's with Morrie' leaves no heartstring unplucked

Gordon Jones
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Theatre Review

Currently playing on the main stage of the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre is the Beothuck Street Players production of "Tuesdays with Morrie."

Originally a prose memoir, subsequently adapted for the stage, it tells the true story of the relationship between a retired sociology professor, who is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), and a former student, now a high-powered sports reporter, who hooks up with his mentor after 16 years of separation.

Jerry Doyle (left) and Jason Card appear in Beothuck Street Players' production of "Tuesdays with Morrie." Submitted photo

Currently playing on the main stage of the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre is the Beothuck Street Players production of "Tuesdays with Morrie."

Originally a prose memoir, subsequently adapted for the stage, it tells the true story of the relationship between a retired sociology professor, who is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), and a former student, now a high-powered sports reporter, who hooks up with his mentor after 16 years of separation.

Presentational style intersperses direct audience address with two-handed dialogue, to which the audience is third party.

At times it is a little reminiscent of a show-and-tell display, as reporter Mitch Albom (Jason Card) presents, interprets, and interacts with sagely folksy Morrie Schwartz (Jerry Doyle), whom he visits every Tuesday.

They chat and reminisce, while Professor Schwartz slides inexorably down the degenerative slope of ALS, displaying increasing physical incapacity and dependence, declining from armchair to walking frame to wheelchair to bed-bound.

Dialogue and interaction between the twosome is affectionate and whimsical as the first act recuperates their symbiotic teacher-student relationship, which finally becomes a surrogate father-son relationship.

Written by Mitch Albom - who is both author and dramatic character - the tribute to a former teacher is drily witty to begin with, and some of that wit is maintained until the very end.

But, as it unfolds, the play becomes increasingly sentimental, even maudlin.

It also becomes overwhelmingly homiletic, as life lessons are driven home, punctuated by schmalzy aphorisms and truisms.

"Are you trying to be as human as you can be?" "Once you learn to die, you learn how to live." "We are all running, we are all in the human race." "Love, love is the only rational act." Morrie is a seemingly inexhaustible source of quips and one-liners, a veritable fount of wit and wisdom, feeding adages and injunctions to his protege - and to us.

While overly didactic and sentimental, play and production are nevertheless warm and humane, sympathetically documenting and raising awareness of the suffering of victims of this disease, including donation of part of the box-office receipts to the Health Care Foundation.

For fundraising purposes, you want the largest theatre you could hope to fill. However, the large stage and ample auditorium of the Arts and Culture Centre do not constitute the ideal site in which to perform an intimate, small-scale piece such as this.

Nevertheless, while dialogue in softer passages does not always carry fully, the handsome, stage-left set and the craftily focussed lighting serve to shrink the space considerably.

Adding to the potential difficulty of drawing audience into the dramatic reality is the fact that the script is extremely episodic.

This characteristic is perhaps unavoidable, if the play is to chart the progressive deterioration of Morrie's condition, but that necessity inevitably impairs continuity and slows progress, owing to repeated breaks in action and dialogue.

The last three episodes, in particular, are glacially slow, creeping up to death-bed counsel, selection of burial site, and imposition on Mitch of grave-visitation obligation - on Tuesdays, of course.

Not many heartstrings are left unplucked, as this celebratory but sententiously sentimental piece moves towards its tearful climax, succeeded by Mitch's final eulogy and a closing musical reprise of "The Very Thought of You."

But sentimentality and sententiousness evidently lie in the eye of this beholder, since the substantial, middle-aged, opening-night audience appeared entirely attentive, responsive, and appreciative, as confirmed by a standing ovation.

So, if you relish smiling through the tears, or if - like Morrie - you simply love a good cry, this may be the show for you.

Fondly and collaboratively performed by Jerry Doyle and Jason Card, with the former inhabiting a part that is likely to be a shoo-in for best male actor in the Newfoundland Drama Festival, Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom's "Tuesdays with Morrie" is directed by Clar Doyle. The Beothuck Street Players production continues until Saturday on the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre main stage.

Organizations: Beothuck Street Players, Health Care Foundation

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland

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  • Susan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    This is a wonderful play, passionately brought to life by the amazing Jerry Doyle (yes I agree he is in line for Best actor) & Jason Card who I have also seen do good work in other productions over the years. I attend a lot of plays & my opinion of them runs the full gamut. While the Telegrams reviewer gets some of the facts of the story right and some of the sentimentality, in my opinion, he is way off in his overall impression of the play.

    Yes, this is a well known novel & play and movie - & it got a lot of press from Oprah Winfrey & others . To be honest, I just knew the basics of the story from interview shows & had not read the book or watched the movie because the subject matter of two main characters one of whom was teaching life lessons while he was ill didnt appeal to & seemed boring to me even though I knew from the reviews that it was an uplifting story. Maybe if Id just skimmed the book, Id have realized its brilliance. But, I didnt, (& I think luckily for me, I didnt) because I got to see Morrie Schwartz truly come alive through Jerry Doyle.

    This is a play about LIVING and the amazing beauty of having another person share life lessons with you. The play reminded me of wonderful teachers whose love of a subject area or of people rubbed off on their students and of the students they taught and of others who have gently given life lessons everyone from grandparents to friends to people like Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture), Mattie Stepanek (Heartsongs), Wayne Dyer, as well as Otto Tucker & Bill Gaulton locally & many more.

    I honestly believe that Jerry Doyles performance is up there with the top actors in the world - thats how good it is!!!

    The other main point is that this is an extremely enjoyable play to watch or just close your eyes & just enjoy the beautiful flow of the words & the way they are delivered. It is poetry in motion and while Morrie is always engaging Mitch Jason Cards character with a sparkle in his eye and a sense of a real desire to impart a life lesson or even something funny or to even to get him to buck up in some area or to slow down & appreciate people (lifes greatest gift). While doing so, Morrie also lovingly engages the audience.

    The play is very much about life & the sweetness of human interactions & choices. I was surprised & happy that for most of the first act, Morrie is shown dancing & loving teaching & life & challenging Mitch to step up as he is maturing (or not) at college. The portrayal of Morrie as he deals with his illness in the 2nd act is far more as MORRIE THE PERSON (not Morrie the diseased person.) Morrie is in a chair for maybe 90 % of the 2nd act & while it does show him slowly progress through a diseased state with humour the disease is very much secondary to the other elements of the play. While there is sentimentality, it is far less than I expected & from what others have told me is far less sentimental than the book. We dont see the toughest part of ALS the sentiment we most see is the joie de vivre the joy of life and living the inner spirit that is there regardless of circumstances (& that can sometimes be lost inside us but is always there with Morrie & the joy of loving & sharing with people in our lives & that teaching (formal & informal) & friendship & caring are more important than any disease.

    Jason Card, as Mitch is the college student that is finding his way, that is touched by life experiences the guy who isnt perfect sho makes some poor choices & some good choices, that ultimately becomes a type A person who learns piece by piece through life lessons that are never delivered formally but informally by a friend in a loving caring way. Jason does a good job portraying Mitch & also deserves a lot of credit for co-producing & being behind this production in every way.

    This play would appeal to anyone who has ever been touched by the beautiful spirit of somebody in their lives & I highly recommend it to anyone from children maybe from age 11 up to seniors - as an engaging story beautifully portrayed. The 2nd act is a bit longer than the 1st & the play concludes around 10:30. In addition to everything else, I think Jerry Doyle has perfected a kindly New York accent that makes his portrayal of Morrie even more endearing I know I smiled & laughed at many of the things Morrie said. Even if you never saw a play before, I think this is a great one to see although it does set a high bar for likability by the audience. It is a play you can savour & enjoy in the moment not one in which you have to try to catch the plot twists. The most sentimentality I have for it is for the wonderful writing & beautiful portrayal by Jerry Doyle which is so good, that if it were a movie, hed be a shoe in for an Academy Award. The set design is absolutely beautiful it really made me fell what it would be like to visit Morrie in his beautiful study with the mountains behind as a backdrop.

    I have always known that Beothuck Street Players has great actors & depth & I am so happy to see them do such a wonderful play it has really renewed my interest in them & we are so lucky that they have done this. (BTW, It looks like we are in for a great year of theatre from many companies this fall). It is so amazing that these actors have delivered the dialogue so naturally. I am really considering seeing the play for a second time because I so love what Morrie has to say.

  • Theatreguy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    This article is not a critique. I have no affiliation with this show whatsoever. But this article is terrible. It's a literary review more than a theatrical one. This story is already popular. It's well-established, your views on it aren't what people are interested in.

    The Tele needs somebody with the guts to say what they mean and not give a synopsis to every play. If I wanted a book report I'd ask my kid.

    Be better.

  • Susan
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    This is a wonderful play, passionately brought to life by the amazing Jerry Doyle (yes I agree he is in line for Best actor) & Jason Card who I have also seen do good work in other productions over the years. I attend a lot of plays & my opinion of them runs the full gamut. While the Telegrams reviewer gets some of the facts of the story right and some of the sentimentality, in my opinion, he is way off in his overall impression of the play.

    Yes, this is a well known novel & play and movie - & it got a lot of press from Oprah Winfrey & others . To be honest, I just knew the basics of the story from interview shows & had not read the book or watched the movie because the subject matter of two main characters one of whom was teaching life lessons while he was ill didnt appeal to & seemed boring to me even though I knew from the reviews that it was an uplifting story. Maybe if Id just skimmed the book, Id have realized its brilliance. But, I didnt, (& I think luckily for me, I didnt) because I got to see Morrie Schwartz truly come alive through Jerry Doyle.

    This is a play about LIVING and the amazing beauty of having another person share life lessons with you. The play reminded me of wonderful teachers whose love of a subject area or of people rubbed off on their students and of the students they taught and of others who have gently given life lessons everyone from grandparents to friends to people like Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture), Mattie Stepanek (Heartsongs), Wayne Dyer, as well as Otto Tucker & Bill Gaulton locally & many more.

    I honestly believe that Jerry Doyles performance is up there with the top actors in the world - thats how good it is!!!

    The other main point is that this is an extremely enjoyable play to watch or just close your eyes & just enjoy the beautiful flow of the words & the way they are delivered. It is poetry in motion and while Morrie is always engaging Mitch Jason Cards character with a sparkle in his eye and a sense of a real desire to impart a life lesson or even something funny or to even to get him to buck up in some area or to slow down & appreciate people (lifes greatest gift). While doing so, Morrie also lovingly engages the audience.

    The play is very much about life & the sweetness of human interactions & choices. I was surprised & happy that for most of the first act, Morrie is shown dancing & loving teaching & life & challenging Mitch to step up as he is maturing (or not) at college. The portrayal of Morrie as he deals with his illness in the 2nd act is far more as MORRIE THE PERSON (not Morrie the diseased person.) Morrie is in a chair for maybe 90 % of the 2nd act & while it does show him slowly progress through a diseased state with humour the disease is very much secondary to the other elements of the play. While there is sentimentality, it is far less than I expected & from what others have told me is far less sentimental than the book. We dont see the toughest part of ALS the sentiment we most see is the joie de vivre the joy of life and living the inner spirit that is there regardless of circumstances (& that can sometimes be lost inside us but is always there with Morrie & the joy of loving & sharing with people in our lives & that teaching (formal & informal) & friendship & caring are more important than any disease.

    Jason Card, as Mitch is the college student that is finding his way, that is touched by life experiences the guy who isnt perfect sho makes some poor choices & some good choices, that ultimately becomes a type A person who learns piece by piece through life lessons that are never delivered formally but informally by a friend in a loving caring way. Jason does a good job portraying Mitch & also deserves a lot of credit for co-producing & being behind this production in every way.

    This play would appeal to anyone who has ever been touched by the beautiful spirit of somebody in their lives & I highly recommend it to anyone from children maybe from age 11 up to seniors - as an engaging story beautifully portrayed. The 2nd act is a bit longer than the 1st & the play concludes around 10:30. In addition to everything else, I think Jerry Doyle has perfected a kindly New York accent that makes his portrayal of Morrie even more endearing I know I smiled & laughed at many of the things Morrie said. Even if you never saw a play before, I think this is a great one to see although it does set a high bar for likability by the audience. It is a play you can savour & enjoy in the moment not one in which you have to try to catch the plot twists. The most sentimentality I have for it is for the wonderful writing & beautiful portrayal by Jerry Doyle which is so good, that if it were a movie, hed be a shoe in for an Academy Award. The set design is absolutely beautiful it really made me fell what it would be like to visit Morrie in his beautiful study with the mountains behind as a backdrop.

    I have always known that Beothuck Street Players has great actors & depth & I am so happy to see them do such a wonderful play it has really renewed my interest in them & we are so lucky that they have done this. (BTW, It looks like we are in for a great year of theatre from many companies this fall). It is so amazing that these actors have delivered the dialogue so naturally. I am really considering seeing the play for a second time because I so love what Morrie has to say.

  • Theatreguy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    This article is not a critique. I have no affiliation with this show whatsoever. But this article is terrible. It's a literary review more than a theatrical one. This story is already popular. It's well-established, your views on it aren't what people are interested in.

    The Tele needs somebody with the guts to say what they mean and not give a synopsis to every play. If I wanted a book report I'd ask my kid.

    Be better.