Tuesdays with Morrie

Terry Byrne and Andrew Murray in 'Tuesdays with Morrie'. Photo: Margaret Brown

Terry Byrne and Andrew Murray in 'Tuesdays with Morrie'. Photo: Margaret Brown

Little did Morrie Schwartz realise during his lifetime that his wisdom would touch millions; a book, a movie and then a play and their cumulative impact on readers, movie lovers and theatre goers certainly proves the adage that one good teacher’s influence on just one good student can affect positively on the lives of many.

Mitch Albom was a student of sociology professor Morrie Schwartz at Brandeis University in Massachusetts in the late seventies. Profoundly influenced by his professor, Albom - a gifted musician - did not go on to be a great pianist, though encouraged by Morrie to follow that dream, nor did he keep his promise to Schwartz to stay in touch after leaving university. Instead, Albom went on to be an extremely successful sports’ journalist who covered coveted calendar highlights such as the Olympics and the Super Bowl.

His life was frantic – planes, trains, cell phones, copy deadlines and TV shows. Then one night, sixteen years after he had last seen Morrie Schwartz, he was watching 'Nightline' and Morrie was the guest. Now seventy-eight, he was withering away with a condition called Lou Gehrig’s Disease; his brain was fully functional but the rest of his body was in a state of deterioration. Albom took a flight from Detroit to Boston to see his old friend. It was a Tuesday, the day of the week their lectures had been held at university. One visit led to fourteen consecutive Tuesdays where Albom flew down to Massachusetts at considerable professional sacrifice to spend time with his old friend and to learn the routes to a truly 'Road to Damascus' turnaround in his own life.

Out of this true story, Albom wrote the book Tuesdays with Morrie which became a bestseller, and then a film with Jack Lemmon. Albom then collaborated with Jeffrey Hatcher to write the play, which Breda Cashe is now touring in Ireland.

Photo: Margaret BrownDirector Breda Cashe captures every essence of this beautifully written play down to the minutiae. As Morrie Schwartz and Mitch Albom respectively, Terry Byrne and Andrew Murray deserve the highest praise for their performances in what could have been a difficult two hander to pull off. As each character navigates to his destination – Morrie through physical disintegration to his final breath; Mitch to enlightenment – both actors carried them off with deliberate and perfect pace.

When Mitch first introduces Morrie on a minimalist stage set of high bookshelves and two chairs (set design by Jack Kirwan), there is an immediate warm connection with the audience. You like them both: Byrne playfully dancing the tango displays an utter lack of ego, and Murray responds with an expression of smiling pride in his old mentor. As one Tuesday leads to the next, Byrne as Morrie enthralls and Murray as Mitch allows him to do so. The pair have the most workable chemistry and because of this the story flows and becomes utterly engaging. Mitch is ready for the reawakening and learning of the wisdoms in Morrie’s grainy pearls, and Byrne as Morrie has endless fun delivering them. The indecencies of old age and disease are graphically described here - but so too are their greatest balms: a life well lived with love and joy, humanity and friendship.
Though Albom’s script journeys into sentimentality, it is not swaddled by it and it is a credit to the directing and acting that the violin strings are held tightly from superfluous playing to the heart. Cache handles the pitch of the writing without compromise. 

Byrne steals the show as the clever, humorous, no nonsense Morrie who imparts his own and W.H. Auden’s wisdoms as if indeed they were his own: “We must love one another or die.” He is completely convincing as the wise old man whose bedside you would buy tickets for if they were on sale. Murray’s strength is to play the bedside visitor as the questioning enthralled student, while allowing the old man centre stage.

Tuesdays With Morrie may reveal no fresh insights, but it is one of those Everyman, Everywoman plays that comes along only once in a while to give us a break from the tragedies we identify with only because human nature is rarely this wise. It stirs the emotional cauldron to bring to the surface life’s compass towards human fulfillment. The audience loved it.

Breda Shannon

  • Review
  • Theatre

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher

30 July - 16 Oct, 2012 (on tour)

Produced by Breda Cashe
In Town Hall Theatre

Directed by Breda Cashe

Set Design: Jack Kirwan

With: Terry Byrne and Andrew Murray