‘Morrie’ or less

Based on Mitch Albom’s best-selling nonfiction book, “Tuesdays with Morrie” explores the friendship of Albom, an accomplished journalist driven solely by his career, and Morrie Schwartz, his former college professor.

Sixteen years after graduation, Mitch had forgotten all about his college experience until he caught a random episode of television’s “Nightline” featuring an interview with Morrie, now battling Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mitch decides to seek out his old mentor, and what begins as a simple visit turns into a weekly pilgrimage.

While staged well enough by director James Ong, Pollard Theatre’s production lacks the kind of emotional resonance one would expect from such a reliable plucker of heart strings. With a cast of two on a stage this size, there’s a lot riding on the actors to fill that space and sell the story of one man learning how to live as the other makes peace with death.

right, James A. Hughes as Morrie

Michael Edsel doesn’t make any awful choices as an actor, but he doesn’t make any bold ones, either. Instead of playing Mitch, Edsel gives us a version of himself. He’s at his best in the role when playing opposite James A. Hughes as Morrie.

While too young for the part, Hughes brings Morrie to life, with a little help from heavy makeup. His performance, while not the most natural, is engaging.

For
“Morrie,” the Pollard stage is often bisected by a screen, allowing for
lovely lighting cues designed by Jake DeTommaso, and a visual
delineation between the past and present during some of Mitch’s
monologues.

The
unfortunate consequence of this setup is that scenes between Morrie and
Mitch are performed at the stage’s rear, putting too much distance
between attendees and performers.

Jerome
Stevenson’s intentionally minimal sets serve their purpose without
distraction, keeping the focus on the actors. The sound design could use
some tweaking, particularly with piano tracks far too quiet to be
effective.

In
the end, “Morrie” feels like a play on life support with only half of
the two-person cast operating at peak efficiency, allowing for some of
the script’s hokier elements to shine through.

Eric Webb

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