Director John P. Kelly has built something of a reputation for himself in Ottawa as a master of comedy. His take on a more serious production, Tuesdays with Morrie is thought-provoking, engaging and emotional. Cast and crew come together for a rich production that does credit to the heart warming, true story.
Originally written as a memoir by Detroit sports journalist Mitch Albom, Albom later adapted the play for the stage with co-playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. In it, he narrates his reconnection with Morrie Schwartz, his college sociology professor and friend. They lose touch after Albom graduates and goes on to become an extremely successful sports journalist. He spends his life running from one sports event to another, one deadline to the next. That is, until he sees his old professor as a guest on Nightline. The now 78-year-old has Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) and Albion goes to see him to pay his respects. The two start talking and, little by little, that visit turns into 14 consecutive Tuesdays of sitting and talking with Morrie.
Director Kelly captures the essence of the beautifully simple text down to every last detail. Under his hand, a play that ostensibly talks about death brims with life, joy, and laughter. From the first moment Mitch introduces Morrie on the minimalist stage, the audience feels an instant connection with him. A sense of warmth permeates the entire production, as Kelly lets the sentimentality of the subject speak for itself, but never lets it become overwhelming or cheesy. David Magladry’s simple, but symbolic set and lighting compliment Kelly’s direction, as he helps set the atmosphere perfectly.
David Whiteley as Mitch plays an ambitious young man adeptly. Whiteley’s detached portrayal at the beginning builds into grief-struck silence as Morrie’s condition deteriorates and Mitch tries to come to grips with losing a friend and his own self actualization.
Tom Charlebois shines as a resilient, joyful Morrie. His laughter and energy, even in the last painful moments, is infectious. Morrie’s physical decline is movingly done. Charlebois transforms before the audience, his body knotted and weak. Yet, the twinkle in his eye never fades as his pain deepens and his condition steadily worsens. Charlebois’ Morrie is warm and comfortable and the actor shows an understanding and empathy toward his character that is astounding. It’s an unfussy performance and a great one that brings the audience into his inner circle. In the end, it’s not a character that dies on stage; it is our best friend, our mentor that leaves us with words of wisdom. We are just as heartbroken as Mitch.
Seven Thirty Productions’ Tuesdays with Morrie is an expertly directed and wonderfully acted production that reminds us of the important things in life. Especially important in today’s busy world, it reminds us to put down the phone and spend time with people, laugh, dance, touch. If you only see one play this year, make it this one. The cry that inevitably comes at the end will be cathartic and cleansing, I promise.
Tuesdays with Morrie continues until March 19, 2016
Tuesdays with Morrie
By Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom
Seven Thirty Productions
Directed by: John P. Kelly
Mitch Albom: David Whiteley
Morrie Schwartz: Tom Charlebois
Stage Manager: Jess Preece
Composer and Sound Designer: Steve Lafond
Set and Lighting Designer: David Magladry
Costumer Designer: Patrice-Anne Forbes
Projection Designer: Fiona Currie
Assistant Stage Manager: Heidi Spicer
Board Operator: Joel Garrow
Public Relations: Barry Caplan
Choreography: Steve Martin
Vocals for “Janine”: Jessica Pearson
Yiddish Consultant: Chava Lerner
Composition: Scott Irving