Friday, December 3, 2010

Tuesdays With Morrie

The curtain opens slowly to a darkened stage in a quiet theatre. Softly a spotlight pierces the black and introduces a figure sitting at a keyboard.
"The last class of my old professor's life met once a week, in his house, by a window in the study where he could watch a small hibiscus plat shed its leaves." said the man at the piano, "The subject of the class was The Meaning of Life. It was taught from experience. There was no required reading, but many topics were covered: love, work, aging, family, community, forgiveness... and death. The class met on Tuesdays and had only one student. I was that student. This is Professor Morrie Schwartz."
More lights came on, revealing an aged man dancing to the music being played by the other. Morrie Schwartz danced his way down the stage, and into the hearts of the captivated audience.
Tuesdays With Morrie is a one-act stage-play based on the bestselling book of the same title, and tells the real life story of Mitch Albom, a sports journalist, and his reconnection with his estranged college professor, Morrie Schwartz. In the play we begin both by the two's meeting on graduation day at Brandeis College and their first meeting. The two reminisce about their first meeting, and how they spent the years becoming close. As, Mitch is leaving school, he promises to stay in touch with Morrie; however, he breaks that promise, and it's a further sixteen years before they see each other again.
In that time, Mitch has changed a lot. Not doing anything with his sociology degree, he attempts to become a jazz pianist. This falls short as Mitch is emotionally struck by the death of his uncle. This gives him the revelation that he needs to do something with his life, and he returns to college. He graduates with a degree in journalism, eventually becoming the famous sportswriter he is today with books, radio shows, TV spots, and his newspaper columns.
One day, Mitch is watching TV when he catches an interview of Morrie Schwartz on Nightline with Ted Koppel. He learns that his old professor has contracted Amyotropic Lateral Sclrosis (ALS) commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Mitch decides to call up his old professor. They meet one day and have an awkward sit down at Morrie's home. One meeting becomes two, and eventually, Mitch is coming to visit Morrie every week on Tuesday.
He starts bringing tape recorders and notepads. Mitch learns a lot about life and death from Morrie in their time together. As the meetings proceed, Morrie's health slowly wanes. At their first meeting, he needs to use a walker; at the second, he's in a wheelchair; then he's resigned to a comfortable chair; and eventually, at their final meeting, Morrie is bedridden.
During their time together, we see how their relationship goes from estrangement to love, and all the ups and downs in between. We learn of Morrie's take on life; "There is no point in loving. Loving IS the point." Along the way, we learn of how both Morrie and Mitch wish they had the courage to say goodbye to long lost loved ones before it was too late; Mitch with his uncle, and Morrie with his mother.
"If you wait til the last minute for the famous last words," said Morrie, "you'd better have great timing."
I was brought to tears in this scene, not only from the emotional revelation of the characters, but by the emotions it stirred in me. We've all been in this situation. For me, it reminds me most of my Grandmother, who passed recently. She had been sick a long time. She also had alsheimer's. The last time I said goodbye to her, I'm not certain she knew who I was. I didn't visit her when she was in the hospital after she got bad. In my mind I was torn. I loved my grandmother, but part of me kept convincing my mind that she wouldn't recognize me anyway, so why go? Finally I was determined to go visit her the next time my mother went. Only then, it was too late. She had passed away that same night. I missed my chance. I was never going to get to say goodbye to her properly.
And here it is, half a year later, and these feelings are being drawn out by the words of these two men; however, the play was not over just yet.
Along with the deep philosophical conversations, there is an abundance of humor. Little moments sprinkled all throughout the show, really made me laugh out loud. Morrie attempts to pour himself a glass of water, when he spills the pitcher all over the floor. Having lost almost all motor function, he can't pick himself up. At the same time, Mitch enters in a tiff about the weather. He storms past not noticing his old friend hunched over the seat, unable to move. After a long rant about how hot it was outside, Mitch finally sees Morrie in distress.
"JESUS, Morrie!" he shouts as he helps the old man back into the seat, "What happened?"
Morrie looks at Mitch and says, "I was playing hockey."
Later on, Morrie asks Mitch if he wants to watch the World Series on TV. Mitch questions Morrie's knowledge of the event.
"Everyone knows the World Series," proclaims Morrie.
"Yeah?" asks Mitch "Who's playing?"
There is a pause, where Morrie searches for the answer, but finally says, "Two baseball teams."
There is a well designed mixture of drama and comedy in the production. In a scene where Mitch's wife, Janine, accompanies Mitch on his visit, Morrie lets slip that he was once in Detroit, the same city that Mitch and his wife live; however, previously, Morrie stated that he'd never been there. Mitch questions this, but Morrie ignores him, and we are treated with the angelic voice of Janine as she sings to Morrie.
"His body was stiff as a sandbag," says Mitch, "but he was dancing."
Shortly after, Morrie health gets bad. He is bedridden, and Mitch arrives for his final visit. It is here that Mitch learns the truth about Morrie's trip to Detroit. Years ago, when Mitch's writing career first took off, Morrie had gone to Detroit in hopes of seeing him. He wrote a letter expressing that wish; however, Mitch, once his new life started, had thrown it away without a second glance along with any other invoice from Brandeis College. This revelation hits Mitch hard. Had he known about the letter, the past sixteen years may have turned out much differently. He would have still been in touch with Morrie the whole time, he wouldn't just now be reconnecting with him.
"Forgive everyone, everything," says Morrie, tears beginning to well, "I forgave you. Now you forgive yourself."
Mitch asks, "Why'd you let me come back?"
Morrie answers with an old Yiddish saying, "Farhaltnisht deine licht unter a shorten. Don't hide your light under a bushel."
He is talking about the light within yourself.
Morrie has one last request of Mitch. Once he's gone, he wants Mitch to visit his grave, every Tuesday and bring a lunch, just as he did for all of their meetings. He wants Mitch to talk to him about his problems and his life.
"You won't be able to talk back," says Mitch.
And Morrie replies, "You talk, I'll listen."
With that, the two say goodbye in the only way they know how, by saying, "I love you."
Morrie died shortly thereafter, and Mitch reflected to the audience.
"I finally figured out what Morrie knew that I didn't. If you lead your life as Morrie did, with people as the priority, making memories, giving of yourself, then when you die, you're not really gone. You live inside the hearts of everyone you've ever touched. So when they visit a cemetery or they're walking alone or when they're playing the piano you taught them to play. They can hear everything you've ever given them. The next time I visited the cemetery, I brought a blanket and some food and laid out a picnic. Morrie was right. It was a lovely spot. 'You talk, I'll listen.' I tried doing that and, to my surprise, the conversation felt almost natural. I realized why. It was Tuesday."
Mitch sat down and began playing the piano. As softly as it appeared, the light faded away and the stage returned to black. Lingering in the air were thoughts of Morrie and the beautiful song that we know he was dancing to.
Much weight is carried on the two performers and the crew supporting them. Quite a wide span of time is covered in this piece, and many emotional journeys are taken. To aid this, the lights and sounds, along with the various set pieces, are meticulously honed to draw out the audience's response. The highly skilled technical crew are able to change the set pieces without the aid of a closing curtain. Everything is done through the use of light and shadow. As the light is on one of the actors, set pieces are being moved in total darkness, creating a seamless effect which holds the story together.
This story is quite moving, touching not only the heartstrings but the funny bone. It makes you laugh, makes you cry, and you learn something about yourself. The message in this play is appropriate for everyone. How you deal with death is just as important as how you deal with life. The two walk hand-in-hand.You go in to see a performance, and you leave a better person.

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