Sunday, January 10, 2016

TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE at the Cherry Lane Theatre

Geronimo Sands and Cliff Blake so-starring in TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE.
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albion has sold nearly 10 million copies worldwide and is reputedly the best-selling memoir of all time.  It has been adapted successfully for the stage and has been produced off-Broadway and in regional theatres throughout North America.  A television film based on the book starring Jack Lemmon and Hank Azaria won an award as the best film made for TV back in 2000. And the latest incarnation of the stage adaptation, by Albion and Jeffrey Hatcher, is currently enjoying an excellent production at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, starring Geronimo Sands as Professor Morris Schwartz (Morrie) and Cliff Blake as Mitch Albion.

Morrie, a sociology professor at Brandeis, was Mitch’s favorite teacher in college.  Indeed, he was even more than a favorite teacher, more like a life coach.  In his undergraduate days, Mitch looked forward to receiving the nuggets of wisdom Morrie dispensed at their regular Tuesday meetings but, subsequent to Mitch’s college graduation, the two lost touch.  And then, after 16 years apart (during which time Mitch established himself as a successful sports reporter), Mitch suddenly learned that Morrie was suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s fatal disease) and that discovery served as the trigger to bring the two together once again, prompting a resumption of their Tuesday meetings.

In these meetings, depicted in this production of Tuesdays With Morrie at the Cherry Lane, Mitch asks all the questions - about love, work, aging, family, community, forgiveness, and death – and Morrie provides all the answers (or at least a lot of free advice). And in playing their roles, both Mr.Sands and Mr. Blake exhibit exceptional talent.  As Mitch, Mr. Blake is pitch perfect: for all his material success, he makes it abundantly clear that there still is something missing from his life, something that Morrie may yet help him find.  And Mr. Sands is impishly charming as Morrie, the quintessential teacher, life coach, guru and guide for the perplexed, whose own humanity and spirituality transcend even his recognition of his own imminent demise

Or, as Mr. Blake has expressed it:

“Morrie teaches us the meaning of life.  How to live.  How to give.  How to cry.  How to die.  These are the most important lessons of our lives.  It’s time to retake Morrie’s class.  It’s the class of a lifetime.”

Now this certainly is not everyone’s cup of tea: indeed, it is much too saccharine a brew for my tastes.  But that is just me.  While I may see Morrie’s aphorisms as platitudinous and something of a cross between Dear Abby’s advice to the lovelorn and a batch of Chinese fortune cookie rejects (as I do), I am well aware that there are millions of you who feel otherwise.  There were, after all,10 million copies of the book sold and 10 million people can’t be wrong, can they?  (Well, yes, maybe they can but, still and all, they are 10 million strong and that large a constituency does deserve some consideration, doesn’t it?)

So here’s my bottom line.  If you enjoyed the book or the movie or found either to be inspirational, then I have little doubt that you will enjoy this staging of the play immensely.  And even if you didn’t much care for the book or the film, you still might get a kick out of this stage production, if only for Mr. Blake’s and Mr. Sands’ splendid performances.  But if fine acting isn’t enough for you and you seek something less spiritual and more substantial in a play, then maybe you ought just take a pass on this one.

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