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Monday, March 12, 2012

Two Good Actors and an Honest Story Equals Good Theatre at St. Marks on Spring



Tuesdays with Morrie

By Mitch Albom
Directed by J.R. Stuart

Reviewed by Carlos Manuel

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Carlos Manuel. All rights reserved.

For anyone who tries to argue the need to have great costumes, incredible lighting, a magnificent set, and state-of-the-art facilities to create good theatre, I challenge them to go see Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie as presented by the St. Mark's UCC “Stage on Spring” series.

This production, under the direction of J.R. Stuart, takes place in a decent-size room at St. Mark's Church, which is sponsoring the event as a fundraiser, with all proceeds going to the improvement of Clothes Closet and the Soup Kitchen facilities.

Tuesdays with Morrie is based on the book of the same title. Although the book was written by Mitch Albom, the play was co-written by Mr. Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, a known playwright and screen/TV writer. Anyone familiar with the story knows that it is based on Mr. Albom’s friendship with his sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS); and because this story is about “life’s greatest lesson,” everyone knows how the story is going to end.

But let’s assume you had never encountered the book or the play. Do not worry, because the first words spoken by Mitch have to do with joy, life, understanding and death, the last one being carefully emphasized to foreshadow the play’s main themes. Don’t be discouraged though, because Tuesdays with Morrie isn’t about death but about dying – and the journey both characters take when confronted with the inevitable outcome.

There are only two characters in this play; and when you have two fine actors, Jeremy Sapp as Mitch Albom and J. R. Stuart as Morrie Schwartz, you don’t need anyone else on stage. These actors know how to deliver every line, every joke, every monologue, and every aside. They also know where to pause, when to emphasize a word or two, when to look at each other for the inside joke, and when to look at the audience to invite us into their intimate space.

Speaking of space, the production doesn’t have an elaborate set – just a couple of upright white flats, a lazy-boy, two comfortable blue chairs, and a few props. The acting area isn’t big either, but it is enough for Mr. Stuart’s direction to present the physical dynamics needed to convey the awkward and uncomfortable moments, as well as the intimacy and love between the two characters. Needless to say, Mr. Stuart is able to bring himself and his acting partner to a top-notch level of quality.

As mentioned before, the play is being produced at a church, so there is no theatrical lighting –  just the lights the room has, which are enough to illuminate the space. There are no blackouts, no scene changes, no special effects – just the chairs, a few props and two outstanding actors doing what they love doing best:  acting, effortlessly, with conviction and heart.

And heart is what this production has. Regardless of knowing how the play will end, Jeremy Sapp as Mitch invites you to join him in his journey, one that after 60 minutes is having audience members crying. And here is where the danger for this play lies. Because the story is about an old man dying, a director can milk it and turn the piece into a sentimental melodrama. Yet, Mr. Stuart understands the need for restraint. There is no sappiness, no melodrama, no sentimentality – just pure emotional human interaction filled with wit and professionalism. And this is what good theatre should be made of, all the time!

Tuesdays with Morrie

March 9,10,16 & 17, 2011, at 8:00 p.m. • March 11 & 18 at 2:00 p.m.

Presented at St. Mark's United Church of Christ Chapel on Spring
222 East Spring Street, New Albany, Indiana
General Seating $10

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