By Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom. A Gallery 7 Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on Thursday, September 15. Continues until September 24
This amateur production is amateurish in many ways, but it contains one very interesting performance.
The play Tuesdays With Morrie was written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom, based on Albom’s best-settling memoir of the same name. It’s about how Albom reconnected with Morrie Schwartz, a favourite sociology professor from Brandeis University, when the 78-year-old Schwartz was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Basically, the dying Morrie teaches Mitch, the financially successful but driven sports reporter, how to live. In doing so, Morrie spouts bromides so regularly that he often sounds like Yoda: “Everybody knows they’re going to die but nobody believes it,” “Taking makes me feel like I’m dying; giving makes me feel like I’m living,” and so on. There’s nothing wrong with these ideas, of course, but, in the wrong hands, they can sound smug.
They’re in the right hands here, with Glen Pinchin playing Morrie. Pinchin’s an intriguing character himself: after policing for 32 years, he completed a theatre-arts diploma at the University of the Fraser Valley. Maybe he learned something there, or maybe he’s a natural. Whatever the case, the beauty in Pinchin’s characterization comes from its humility. He never calls attention to the old man’s cuteness or irascibility. The focus for Pinchin’s Morrie is all on Mitch; he’s just trying to gently help out the uptight younger guy.
The night I attended, Ken Hildebrandt, who plays Mitch, started off woodenly, reciting his lines too quickly, but when he settled in and began listening to his scene partner, many of the rough edges fell away.
Tuesdays With Morrie is all about kindness, but the truth isn’t always gentle, so think of this next paragraph as tough love. Carissa Boynton’s direction is awful. She illustrates every moment she can get her hands on. She muddies the touching climax, in which the two men are saying goodbye, by allowing sound designer Bruce Havery to layer on a folk song with lyrics, amping up the schmaltz and making it hard to hear the farewell. Every time Mitch mentions playing the piano, Boynton has him sit and mime piano playing. In a script that should flow fluidly between direct address and realistic scenes, the lights in Joanne Abraham’s design go up and down so manically sometimes that you’d think you were in a disco.
Boynton and her designers have a lot to learn. Pinchin already understands the value of less.