Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Tuesdays with Morrie
But after the play was over, and I blinked away the tears, I never felt that sense of betrayal I get from a manipulative Stephen Spielberg movie: like at the endings of The Color Purple or A.I..
So if you get choked up when the lights come down on this excellent production of Tuesdays With Morrie, it'll be thanks to the redemptive power of a grown man who's been lucky enough to rediscover his own humanityand all without the help of the swelling strings of a movie composer like John Williams. (Though, I admit, each of these stories does involve some kind of a rebirth.) Likewise, if you don't get choked up at the end, "ask your doctor," as they say in the commercials.
We can see a lot of our own first-world flaws in Mitch Albom's autobiographical tale, which begins with a reluctant reunion with an old college humanities professor (played with tremendous gentleness and good humor by Bobby Miller). Aaron Orion Baker becomes Mitch Albom, the man who will go on to write the best-selling book that's now Jeffrey Hatcher's popular play. But only after he's set out on a journey that only a good mentor can contrive.
In this new production, Mr. Baker is wry, and rueful and hypnotic (like any good sports writer), taking us through Albom's carefree youth in New York, and then on to a career as a newspaper columnist and TV personality. Which somehow brings us up to the present, when we witness him spending half his time shouting into a cell phone, and even indulging in a media style "witch burning" of a spoiled star athlete who's missed a practice session. And, up till now, his abuse of power has worried him not to the slightest degree.
Meanwhile, Morrie seems to be aging backward like a Merlin: all his physical abilities are receding, until he might as well be carried around in the arms of a wet nurse. But his power to cagily snatch up every wooden nickel of false wisdom, or even to stand like a stern traffic cop at every convenient shortcut in modern thinking, never leaves him. It is a masterful, joyous performance by Bobby Miller, quietly modulated by the equally empathetic director John Contini.
And that's another thingit's hard to believe it only lasts 80 minutes, considering the depth of character and story we experience and relish. Pacing, thanks to playwright Hatcher and director Contini, seems effortless as the story goes deeper and deeper.
But if this Morrie is a Merlin, his young Arthur gets underway only half-heartedly on the road to claiming his own version of Camelot. In fact, you might witness just the barest twinge of reportorial jealousy in Mitch, that "Nightline's" Ted Koppel happened to get there first: when the old mensch is dying, and his student nearly misses the story completely. It just goes to show that even our worst qualities can bring out the best in usif we're lucky enough to have the right teachers.
Through November 17, 2013, on the south end of Chesterfield Mall, near the Sears store on the upper level. For more information visit www.dramaticlicenseproductions.org.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association, the professional union of actors and stage managers in the US.