Tuesdays with Morrie at @PacificTheatre (guest review by @loisrp)

Pacific Theatre invited the theatre production company Gallery 7, of Abbotsford, to restage “Tuesdays With Morrie” in Vancouver, after a successful run in the Fraser Valley. Pacific Theatre has a strong legacy of presenting thoughtful plays that have a faith-based focus, but which are not specifically religious, and Tuesdays With Morrie falls comfortably into this category.

I knew that the 1997 nonfiction book “Tuesdays With Morrie” had been a hugely popular bestseller, and I had heard bits and pieces about it from time to time. This play, first staged in 2002, is adapted from the book, and very true to the bookís content. I was slightly concerned that I’d find this play to be excessively saccharine and trite. But I need not have worried. The play is about friendship, about accepting weakness and human frailty, and what aging and death can teach us about life. If a moment is about to become maudlin, some caustic sarcasm or embarrassing incident intervenes.

The two lead actors are well-cast. Glen Pinchin plays Morrie Schwartz, a witty, mild-mannered, and compassionate sociology professor suffering from the debilitating ailment ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Ken Hildebrandt plays the sometimes glib and selfish Mitch Albom, a highly successful sports journalist and Morrieís former student.

Mitch reconnects with his former professor, who had been a dear friend during Mitch’s college years, by happenstance. Mitch feels obligated to see his old mentor, and makes what he intends to be a single, pro forma half-hour visit. This becomes a series of weekly Tuesday visits during which Mitch and Morrie discuss life, aging, humanity, death, and other profound topics. Morrie has spent a lifetime caring for his students and his family, and has collected hundreds of aphorisms, both of his own design, and from his reading and personal experience (both  Buddhist philosophy and the Yiddish language are significant here).

The play is more than Morrie spouting aphorisms, though. It explores the nature of love between two men, often a fraught subject. Morrie craves touch. As Morrie says, when one is an infant, touch is required, and when one is old and dying, touch is required. So why is it that touch is seen as optional in the time in between? Mitch obliges when his friend wants a hug, a kiss on the forehead, a massage. Without overtly saying so, the play suggests a reconsideration of how relationships between men are constructed in Western society.

Morrie is insistent that he not be defined by his illness. He wants to hear his visitors’ problems, and although he famously ‘never offers advice’, he listens and suggests. Why does Morrie just not accept that he should be the one accepting sympathy? “Because taking makes me feel like I’m dying. And giving makes me feel like I’m living”.

Morrie is not perfect, and does not seek to portray himself as such. He points out a sad flaw that has haunted him all his life. Mitch must forgive himself for not keeping his definite promise to keep in touch. Morrie easily forgives Mitch, but not so easily himself.

The set, which is unchanged throughout the play, looks like a comfortable and old-fashioned living room. Morrie indicates that much of the contents have not changed since the 1950s. Throughout the play, neither actor leaves the set, and there are only the two of them throughout, making for a sometimes intense experience. The two actors have good chemistry, and make the relationship between Mitch and Morrie believable.

This is not an action-packed play. Its pace is contemplative. It’s suitable for a chilly fall evening that you want to spend in a cozy living room.

Disclosure: Lois (and her guest) attended the play to write a guest review on media tickets courtesy of Pacific Theatre. This review is neither paid for nor expected. Raul retains editorial control of whatever is published on his blog. Lois saw Tuesdays with Morrie on September 14th. Thanks for the review, Lois!

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