Review: 'Tuesdays with Morrie' moving production
01:44 PM, Nov 18, 2013
Some teachers can change your life.
Case in point: Tuesdays with Morrie, currently on stage at Blackfriars Theatre in Rochester.
Few are those that do not know the story line of Tuesdays with Morrie, it’s an autobiographical account of journalist Mitch Albom’s relationship with his former Brandeis University sociology professor Morrie Schwartz.
Albom’s book of the same name, which he wrote to help pay Schwartz’s medical bills after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, was published and spent four years on The New York Times best-seller list. It is the top-selling memoir of all time.
At Blackfriars, the stage adaptation of the book, written by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, features Stefan Cohen as Mitch, the perpetual student, and Greg Byrne as Morrie.
Off-stage, both Byrne and Cohen are both educators, Byrne a retired English teacher and Cohen a history teacher in the Rochester City School District.
Whether their educational background was by chance, it had to have influenced the forceful performances during this production directed by John Haldoupis.
Byrne reduced me to tears during three separate scenes of this 90-minute, intermission-free production. When I say tears, I don’t mean misty eyes, but large, flowing waterworks that came not from crying for a character, but for the people in your own personal life the characters so aptly embody or, quite possibly, even some personal regret.
These are not easy tears to elicit theater is more often about entertainment and less about transporting the theater-goer back to an emotional time and place in her own past.
Byrne, though, transcended his role and played the part of an erudite man dying from a decaying neurological disease with such power that during the final scene you wonder if he is still breathing.
Cohen’s performance, though not as moving, was equally as commanding. He played the part of a student in a way that only a teacher could with exactness, precision and some comedic relief.
Playing the role of the author of a play based on the author’s work is not easy. If you fail, it is glaringly obvious, and if you are mediocre you ruin at least half of the show. If you nail it, which Cohen did, you have the power to change a life.
Why? Because, for those like me, who never read the book or watched the movie, Tuesdays with Morrie is a lesson plan: This play that seems about dying is really to teach all of us caught up in the craziness of day-to-day life to start living.
It was apropos that during the play as Byrne delivered such powerful, teachable, lines as “Death ends a life, not a relationship” and “Without love, we are birds with broken wings” an audience member’s cell-phone rang.
It hammered home the message Cohen and Schwartz so beautifully delivered: Slow down and savor life.
Putnam is a Brockport-based freelance writer.
If you go
If you go
Tuesdays with Morrie.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Blackfriars Theatre, 795 E. Main St.
Cost: $28.50 to $36.50.
For tickets: (585) 454-1260 or bftix.org.