If you are interested in a play about a friendship between a student and his beloved sociology professor, look no further than Sierra Madre Playhouse’s
production of Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Jeffrey Hatcher and Albom at Sierra Madre Playhouse in Sierra Madre, CA through March 31st.
This is the story of a friendship between a nationally-known professor at Brandeis University suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
and his famous sports journalist of a former student who has more questions than answers.
Within this moon glow of a relationship, two major questions are advanced:
1.What is friendship?
2.Who is God?
The former builds on stage throughout as the master, here referred to as coach, slowly withers away before us, the audience, but not before
changing the student from a self-involved, time-absorbed professional to a kindred spirit unafraid of showing the love and freedom in his heart of hearts
and soul of souls. The latter defined by the love displayed by both men. One in coming to terms with his mortality, and the other by learning
the meaning of life by releasing the inner light most of us are afraid to let shine and taught to hide.
The writing here is realistic, relevant and retroactive. It begins with mutual respect and ends in utter admiration of both parties for the other.
The words soar off the page like eagles, and fly with the saints.
They are a mountain peak and egg yellow sun tearing through gray storm clouds.
The language grabs you by the throat and dances on your cranium for 105 minutes, never letting go and always allowing space for humanity, grace and gentility
among friends and enemies alike.
Hatcher and Albom are truly gifted playwrights with a reason, rhythm and rhyme in their footsteps.
They feed us, the audience, the universe in small doses while growing the characters and expanding their repertoire to include intellectual and comical
flights of fancy and sincere, seamless and soaring poetry.
“Tuesdays with Morrie” is the best-selling memoir of all time, with over ten million copies sold worldwide.
Albom, along with Hatcher, adapted the book into a play which opened Off-Broadway in 2002 and has been produced in regional theatres throughout North America.
Albom, the nationally acclaimed newspaper columnist, radio host and television commentator, lives in suburban Detroit.
Director L. Flint Esquerra gives both actors room to be themselves. The director of two Tennessee Williams plays (“A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”)
at The Group Repertory Theatre in North Hollywood, where Larry Eisenberg (Morrie) is the co-artistic director, understands the themes of forgiveness and family running
in-between the playwrights’ lines like relish a hot dog and bun.
Like a cobalt sky brightening a dark afternoon, Esquerra adds restraint, order and discipline enough to allow the play to jump from the page to the stage,
and make for a deeper and more meaningful emotional and spiritual connection with the audience.
His helming of the production proves steadfast, efficient and colorful in imagination, personality and subject matter.
Esquerra assembles two courageous and transparent actors who comprehend, and are eager to accept, the play’s brutal honesty.
Eisenberg (Morrie) almost steals the show as the older professor with the silver tongue and golden words of wisdom.
The Shakespearean actor (“Comedy of Errors” and “King Lear”) gives a convincing and mesmerizing turn.
It is difficult to play a dying person. Every movement, action and nuance must be perfect. The veteran theatre director is up to the challenge by
keeping us, the audience, torn between a laugh and a tear.
This tour-de-force of a portrayal may be the best work of the film writer’s (“David Proshker” and “Fish don’t Blink”) career.
It combines true generosity with genuine spontaneity that leave us, the audience, stirred and ready to take a good, hard look at our lives.
The Broadway World Regional Best Director award-winner for Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” deserves a world of credit for taking on this
vital and challenging role with such vigor and passion.
But it is Jackson Kendall (Mitch) who runs away with the play.
In a brilliant, moving and electric performance that showcases a character’s growth from immaturity to maturity and boy to man, the veteran Sierra Madre Playhouse
actor shows-off a luminous vulnerability and substance that not only stop traffic for miles around, but a talent for tragedy and pure drama that will serve him well at any age,
but especially now.
The performing arc that the co-founder and vice president of Boom Stick Theater’s character takes is one usually reserved for Shakespearean tragedies and Greek dramas.
But here Kendall more than makes Mitch his own through a daunting stage presence, narrator’s gifted tongue and little boy charm that mark this characterization
as one of the most important and relevant in recent local theatre history.
This critic hopes to see Kendall on stages in Los Angeles and beyond again soon.
Furthering the message of the play are Amanda Knehans’ set design, Derek Jones’ innovative lighting design, Christopher Moscatiello’s powerful sound design and Michael Mullen’s costume design.
All in all, “Tuesdays with Morrie” succeeds because of, not despite, the lessons it teaches about bravery in the face of overwhelming odds,
and the true meaning of life.
In its motivated and meticulous cadence and flow, the drama proves that age is but a number and regret just a word.
In its potent and powerful panache, the play takes us on a philosophical and metaphysical journey where love overcomes just about every obstacle and
friendship is so much more than a cliche.
That two actors can fill the stage for nearly two hours and not miss a beat is almost as miraculous as those two actors anchoring our attention for
that same time period.
All seems well on West Sierra Madre Boulevard as Artistic Director Christian LeBano and Managing Director Estelle Campbell’s
choice of material and performers here weave a illuminating, inspiring and educational chemistry that leaves us, the audience, enchanted, enticed and enhanced as human beings.
“You talk,” Morrie says, “and I’ll listen.”
Sierra Madre Playhouse has listened, and now they are talking.
By Radomir Vojtech LuzaTheatre, Film and Book Critichttp://atthetheatrewithRadomirLuza.com
SHOWTIMES: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM, except March 17th.Pay what you can performance on Monday, March 18th.ADMISSION: $40. Seniors (65+),$36, Students (age 21 and under), $20.INFORMATION/RESERVATIONS: (626) 355-4318WHERE: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, CA 91024 Just east of Pasadena.PARKING: Ample free parking in a lot behind the playhouse.