Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Tuesdays with Morrie" shines at the Rep

My freelance review:
There is so much to enjoy and appreciate in Tuesdays with Morrie, the latest production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Based on Mitch Albom's 1997 best-selling autobiographical novel and adapted for the stage by Albom and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, Tuesdays with Morrie is a two-actor production that offers a powerful, deeply emotional, funny and insightful story about life, death and the nature of love.

Morrie is a retired and terminally-ill college professor whose profound philosophical perspectives on life earn him notoriety on ABC's Nightline. Shortly after that happens, Mitch, one of Morrie's former students and now a successful sports reporter, visits him for the first time in 16 years, despite having promised Morrie to stay in touch after graduation.

Morrie is the type of thinker who says, "As far as men go, it is not what they are that interests me, but what they can become." He asks Mitch, "Are you being as human as you can?" This question haunts Mitch. And he returns for more conversations with Morrie on subsequent Tuesdays.

There is human drama -- including plenty of laughs -- in this production. Before our eyes, Morrie's health declines and both Morrie and Mitch become more-aware of life and living. And the bond between the two men grows to the point where the inevitable, bittersweet ending to the story plays out with great emotion.

Director Mark Cuddy pulls off a spectacular win here. Cuddy and his artistic staff leverage the intimate Rep stage and use almost no sets -- just those objects that are essential to achieve greater drama and interest from the story. One of the very few objects on stage is a large Japanese maple tree that sits outside Morrie's window. Through lighting, the tree changes color as summer transitions into fall and Morrie's health takes its final declines. Particular kudos to scenic designer Vicki Smith and lighting designer Don Darnutzer.

The performances in this production are outstanding and about as good as acting gets. As Morrie is Rep-veteran Bernie Passeltiner (who was a member of the original company of The Rep from 1966-69); as Mitch is Remi Sandri.

The Rep's production of Tuesdays with Morrie is 85 minutes long and has no intermission. The length of the production is perfect.

Tuesdays with Morrie plays through Jan. 27 at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in Webster Groves.

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