By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Such fun is this show that a few minor imperfections, such as some clunky dancing by a few men in the ensemble, are hardly worth mentioning. On a stage that looks like a red velvet jewel box, singing big and letting the audience bask in her glow, Dolly looks like she's right where she belongs.————
The title on the program says Tuesdays With Morrie, but the actual name of the two-man play is Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie. Notice who gives himself top billing.
Based on the book that was based on interviews inspired by episodes of Nightline, and which then became an Oprah favorite, an Emmy-winning TV tearjerker and finally the play, Tuesdays With Morrie wants you to believe it's a true account of the last brave days of Professor Morrie Schwartz. Fighting the degenerative effects of Lou Gehrig's Disease, Schwartz, a Brandeis University sociology teacher, sat with his former student, sportswriter Albom, for a series of Tuesday afternoon conversations at Albom's request. Albom taped the meetings and turned Schwartz's words of wisdom about living and dying into a slim book that shot to the top of the best-seller lists and has so far sold more than 11 million copies.
There's something disquieting about the theatrical adaptation (co-written by Albom and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher) that's currently playing at Addison's WaterTower Theatre. The emphasis shifts the focus from Schwartz, played by Gary Taggart (who also did the role at Fort Worth's Circle Theatre), to Albom, played by Joe Nemmers. The Albom character gets the most lines as he narrates his own story, addressing the audience directly as he recounts his relationship with Schwartz. Promising to keep in touch after graduating from Brandeis in the 1970s, Albom instead has ignored Schwartz for 16 years. Then Albom sees him on TV with Koppel and decides to make weekly visits, flying from Detroit, where he has high-profile gigs at a newspaper and on TV and radio, to the prof's home in the Boston area.
Is he reaching out in sympathy to an old mentor, or does the play's Albom smell surefire book contract? The way it's played onstage, Albom doesn't come off as a nice guy with altruistic motives. Even in his visits to the ailing Schwartz, he's impatient, taking calls from demanding editors and complaining that he has to miss an interview with a hotshot ballplayer because of the Tuesday get-togethers.
Schwartz, meanwhile, is choking on his egg salad and being ignored by nurses as he gasps for breath. Somehow he recovers enough in each scene of the 90-minute one-act to utter vacant aphorisms such as "Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live." But the lessons he's trying to teach his former student about priorities don't seem to sink in.
Tuesdays With Morrie reveals Albom as an egotistic fame-seeker with unbridled ambition. The play's Mitch Albom keeps reminding the audience and Schwartz of all the things he's given up to get ahead. He quit playing jazz piano so he could earn a master's in journalism at Columbia. He sacrificed a personal life to be a highly paid sports columnist. And all those flights on all those Tuesdays—man, what a pain. Hey, Mitch, see the old man in the chair? He's lost the ability to swallow. Now complain.
That's the strange thing about this play. The life being celebrated is the wrong life. It's Albom, justifying how he whored out a dying man to sell millions of books.
At one point toward the end, Schwartz asks Albom why he kept showing up every Tuesday. "I come here one day a week to make up for the jerk I am the other six," says Albom. Now that sounds like the truth.
Tuesdays With Morrie