Civic visits ‘Morrie’ again
When Civic Theatre of Allentown first staged “Tuesdays With Morrie” in 2008 it was an intimate production presented on the then new black box stage of Theatre514.
This time around, the two-person play about a student and his teacher dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, opens May 4 on the much larger stage of Cedar Crest’s Alumnae Hall.
Director Bill Sanders says the material is strong enough to make the transition: “The moments need to be a little bit larger. But most of it is taking an intimate play into a larger space and not necessarily losing the intimacy. I think that’s mostly about trusting the work that the actors have done.”
The actors are Civic stalwarts Will Morris and Barry Glassman, who reprise their roles from the production 10 years ago.
Glassman plays the title role of Morrie Schwartz, a retired sociology professor who is dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Morris plays Mitch Albom, a former student of Schwartz’ who starts visiting him weekly in his final days to talk about living and dying.
Sanders says there was little to change from the men’s previous performances: “I can’t imagine anyone being better in these roles.”
Albom, a newspaper sports columnist, wrote the best-selling memoir, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” in 1997. He had had Schwartz as a professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, but hadn’t talked to him for 16 years.
When he heard Schwartz had been interviewed on ABC-TV’s “Nightline” about his disease, Albom felt guilty about not keeping in touch. He started visiting him every Tuesday.
To help pay Schwartz’s medical bills, Albom wrote about his visits in a book that landed on the New York Times bestseller list, becoming one of the top-selling memoirs of all time.
Albom and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher wrote a stage version that opened off Broadway in 2001. When Civic staged the show in 2008, it was one of the first community theaters to perform it.
Sanders said at the time that the script arrived in manuscript form rather than the printed book edition.
He decided to revive “Tuesdays With Morrie” this season because it seemed the right time to stage the play again.
“We need reminders of goodness and kindness and intimacy with others in what has become at times a very cold and scary world,” he says.
Sanders says he also wanted to include a play with which audiences would be familiar.
“It’s like an old sweater that hopefully people could put on,” he says. “I think ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ gives you all those feelings and it’s comforting in that way.”
Sanders says the sets, props and costumes are simple, allowing the focus to be on the moving and humorous interactions between Morrie and Albom, who are friends as well as mentor and student.
“It’s mostly about the relationship between these two men and how they are forever changed by each other,” he says.
Sanders says even though Morrie is nearing the end of his life, the story crackles with a surprising amount of wit, as well as humanity.
“I hope everyone walks away from this play wanting to connect,” Sanders says. “I hope they want to examine their relationships and perhaps take a moment to be thankful to their coaches, their teachers, their mentors and their friends.”
He says the play will help audiences reconnect with what is truly important in life.
“There are too many beautiful things, too many simple moments that we can just let slip through our fingers,” he says. “Like any good book or spiritual devotion, going back and doing something again, reading it again, living it again can only expand the experience and the impact.”
“Tuesdays With Morrie,” 7:30 May 4-5, 10-12, 16-19; 2 p.m. May 13, 20. Alumnae Hall, Cedar Crest College, Allentown. civictheatre.com or 610-432-8943