A true story, a book, a TV movie, and now a play, Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie is a touching view of what one man can teach another. The relationship of Mitch and Morrie Schwartz began as that of student (college) and teacher; it ends as that of student (of life) and teacher. During the college years, Morrie helps Mitch begin to grown up. When they meet again, 16 years after Mitch's graduation, Morrie is dying of the neurological disorder ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) and Mitch, on the fast track of a career as a high profile sports writer, is still growing up. Through personal stories and sage truisms, the emotionally open Morrie helps Mitch deal with his own emotional issues, from the way he values relationships and professional success to the guilt and grief suppressed for years after the death of a close relative. Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom's screenplay condenses Mitch's journey into a 90-minute series of vignettes.
In Tuesday with Morrie, Mitch (Daniel Krell) takes a life-changing roller coaster ride of emotional change, culminating in a cathartic breakthrough at the death of Morrie (Bernie Passeltiner), and we can see it all coming. There is no great suspense here, but most audience members should find moments to nod in agreement and recognition of the simple yet profound steps to leading a life of dignity as expressed by Morrie. Passeltiner has played the part in several productions, and he is comfortable if a bit understated here. Krell, narrating and playing the author over an approximately 20-year period, affects some mannerisms and "verbal attitude" in an attempt to evoke the unpolished young Mitch, but he is most effective when simply telling the story and speaking more naturally. The evolution of their relationship and the progression of the "education" of Mitch proceed steadily and quickly, offering too little time for us to really become emotionally involved ourselves.
The simple set by Tony Ferrieri depicts the modest home of Morrie Schwartz in its lived-in and long unchanged state, with a windowed back wall revealing a beautiful tree that changes appearance from scene to scene, thanks to Andrew David Ostrowski's very effective lighting work.
Tuesdays with Morrie may resound more deeply in book form, or even in the well-cast TV move (with Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon), but the City Theatre production is a pleasant bit of feel-good theatergoing.
Tuesdays with Morrie has been extended through December 18. For performance and ticket information, call 412-431-CITY or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org.