Theater review: “Tuesdays with Morrie” at the Théâtre J

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Cody Nickell (L) and Michael Russotto (R) in “Tuesdays with Morrie” at Theater J. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

With more than 14 million copies sold, Tuesdays with Morrie is one of the most popular and widely read books in the world. What makes Mitch Albom’s memoir of the days he shared with his dying former teacher Morrie Schwartz so popular? Maybe that’s because, as Morrie suggests, when it comes to “that last trip into the great unknown … most people want to know what to pack.” The universality of death, mourning, and the search for meaning, all wrapped up in a story of growth and redemption, help explain why Albom’s book has found such a large following. Adapted for the stage, “Tuesdays with Morrie” continues to soften cheeks and warm hearts in a new production at Theater J, America’s largest Jewish theater.

Mitch Albom (Michael Russotto), a successful sports journalist, is led to reconnect with his former sociology professor when he learns about Night line that Morrie Schwartz (Cody Nickell) has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. What was initially intended as a one-time visit from Mitch – uncomfortable with Morrie’s “sensitive” tendencies and outspoken mentions of death – turns into recurring meetings, always on Tuesdays, where the couple discuss the goal, regrets, life and death. With many lines and scenes taken straight from the book, fans of the source material will be delighted with this adaptation, whose screenplay was written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom.

“Tuesdays with Morrie” Continues to Dampen Cheeks and Warm Hearts in New Production at Theater JSuperbly played with impeccable technical design…

Almost two decades old, “Tuesdays with Morrie” sticks to well-established theater conventions and excels at meeting expectations, without venturing into any experimental or innovative territory. Like the book it is based on, its longevity and high popularity reflects the uncontroversial nature of its offerings. Avoiding politics, Morrie and Mitch’s conversations offer popular ideas like the value of quality time with loved ones versus professional escalation, or the exhilaration of the joy and meaning of parenthood. One piece of advice – to always forgive others everything, period – perhaps reflects the blind spots of two affluent, well-educated white men, who never encountered a transgression they couldn’t get over. Despite subjects that could easily turn moralizing and saccharine, the upbeat pace and comedic touches make the audience laugh and release tension without breaking the momentum.

While Morrie and Mitch’s meetings span several seasons, the decor imagined by Debra Kim is eternally autumnal. A Japanese maple, whose warm red leaves shade the stage, decorates the outlines of Morrie’s living room, with an endless amber sky outside the large arched windows and a scene painted with leaf prints like a forest floor. Autumn and sunset, when life and light gradually fade but color still shines, conjures up what many are hoping for in their own later years.

The efficient lighting design by Andrew R. Cissna clarifies the transitions between the tours and Mitch’s storytelling. Meanwhile, music runs through the room, from Mitch’s early ambitions to become a jazz pianist to Morrie’s love for opera. Mitch’s wife, a professional singer, is conjured with nothing but an empty chair and a recording of a woman, credit to sound designer Matthew M. Nielson.

Mitch’s suits by Ivania Stack reflect his growing comfort, as he sheds his zipper and suit jacket over the months, while Morrie looks cozy and colorful in a patterned sweater and brown pants. . Mitch relaxes over time, moving from a firm handshake at first to soft, intimate touches – a hand on one knee, a kiss on a forehead. In counterpoint, Morrie stiffens as ASL steals control of his own body. Morrie, introduced with his love of dancing, switches from a walker to a wheelchair until he is bedridden, the relentless progression of a degenerative disease. Nickell’s performance draws audiences in, with audible gasps as the humiliations of a dying man come to the fore and independence slips away. Directed by Jenna Place, the production appears to capture Morrie’s physical decline more vividly than in the static pages of Albom’s book, though the offensive speech of ALS patients is downplayed for the sake of public understanding.

“Tuesdays with Morrie” lives up to its reputation as a crowd pleaser. Even the cynics among us may need tissues, not only for the inevitable dark end, but for the memories it evokes in those of us who have watched a loved one slowly succumb to illness or regret. the moments we lost with lost friends and family. . Superbly performed with impeccable technical design, Theater J’s “Tuesdays with Morrie” is a hit that won’t ruffle extended family feathers on Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

Duration: 90 minutes

Notice: 10 years and over

“Tuesdays with Morrie” runs through December 5, 2021 at Theater J, 1529 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20036. In-person or on-demand streaming tickets can be purchased in line. Post-show chats and remote corporate headquarters are available on certain dates, listed on the Theater J.

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