Theater Review: Civic’s ‘Morrie’ celebrates life
It might seem incongruous to call a theatrical production about dying a feel-good play, but that is a perfect way to describe Civic Theatre of Allentown’s latest offering, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” through May 20, Alumnae Hall, Cedar Crest College, Allentown.
Written originally as a best-selling memoir by sportswriter Mitch Albom, then turned into a TV movie and later a play by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, “Tuesdays with Morrie” celebrates life and death as natural progressions.
The script is full of humor and hope, with the overriding theme that what matters in the end is humanity and love. In Morrie’s words, “The wise and wonderful things you want to say at the end are the kind of things you should say all your life.”
The plot centers around the relationship between Albom, played sensitively by Will Morris, and Albom’s former sociology professor Morrie Schwartz, who is dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Barry Glassman, last seen in Civic’s “Angels in America” as Harry Cohn, gives another gripping performance in the title role. The May 5 performance was seen for this review. Glassman and Morris are reprising their roles in Civic’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” production from 10 years ago.
Although promising to stay in touch with his professor after graduating from Brandeis University, Albom moved on in his life, abandoning his love of piano and ending up becoming a successful sports journalist. He is reunited after 16 years with Professor Schwartz, whom he calls “coach,” after the dying man appears on “Nightline.” The script is based on the 14 Tuesdays they spend together before Morrie’s death.
Civic Theatre Artistic Director William Sanders has avoided the temptation to overdramatize the scenes, letting the authenticity of the bonding between the two men create the emotion and tell the story.
The scenic design by Joshua Deruosi is in the same vein. The bookshelf representing Morrie’s study is plain and uncluttered, in keeping with the professor’s philosophy that things are not what we should be striving for or holding onto. The stacked plain wooden slats on the moveable panels seem to remind us that we all begin life with a clean slate.
Morris does double duty as lighting designer, providing a variety of effective techniques to establish mood and focus attention. Morrie’s inevitable deterioration from ALS is handled cleverly through the use of props, from walker to hospital bed.
Morrie’s death moved some in the audience to tears, but the final scene reminded everyone joyfully that he lived on in his student’s memory.
Tickets: Civic Theater box office, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943. “Tuesdays with Morrie” plays through May 20 at Cedar Crest College because the Nineteenth Street Theatre is being renovated.