Chemistry is everything in two-character dramas, such as The Justice Theater Project’s soul-stirring production of Tuesdays with Morrie by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom. This intense autobiographical drama, based on Albom’s bestselling 1997 nonfiction novel about his life-changing friendship with his favorite teacher Morris S. “Morrie” Schwartz (1916-95), benefits from the casting of David Henderson and John Honeycutt, two of the Triangle’s finest actors, as sports reporter and author Mitchel David “Mitch” Albom and Morrie Schwartz, who contracted Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in 1994 and died in November 1995 at the age of 78.
David Henderson paints a compelling portrait — warts and all — of Albom, who wrestles with guilt over his neglect of his old college mentor, whom he called “Coach,” for 16 years after graduation. It was only after seeing an episode of “Nightline with Ted Koppel” about Schwartz’s heroic battle with ALS that Albom renewed acquaintance with his old professor — and ultimately visited him Tuesday after Tuesday after Tuesday until his death.
In perhaps the biggest role of his Triangle theater career, John Honeycutt gives a heart-tugging performance as Morrie Schwartz, who kept his sense of humor and kept fighting the good fight even while battling an insidious disease that sapped his strength, made him increasingly helpless, and eventually left him too weak to take his next breath.
Justice Theater Project guest director Andy Hayworth also deserves great credit for coaxing virtuoso performances from his two actors and never allowing Tuesdays with Morrie to become a four-hanky weeper.
It is true that there are tears and sniffles as Messrs. Henderson and Honeycutt fearlessly explore the complicated relationship between Schwartz and Albom, whose flame of friendship burned brightest when Albom was an undergraduate taking all the classes that he could from his favorite professor Morrie Schwartz. That flame died down for nearly two decades while the two men went their separate ways, and then was rekindled when Schwartz’s very public battle with ALS brought Albom back into his life.
All through their time together, Morrie Schwartz never quit teaching Mitch Albom. His last lesson — on how to die with grace and dignity, even when a disease renders you powerless to wipe your own behind — is one that The Justice Theater Project audiences will long remember, thanks to the charismatic characterizations of David Henderson and John Honeycutt and the way that director Andy Hayworth underscores the intense emotion in the play’s most intense moments, without ever letting the performance become maudlin. Don’t miss Tuesdays with Morrie.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 16th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/02/16/991866/unmaudlin-morrie-avoids-excess.html; and Feb. 13th Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=213. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 12th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/02/justice-theater-project-opens-tuesdays-with-morrie/.)
The Justice Theater Project presents TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE at 8 p.m. Feb. 19, 2 p.m. Feb. 20, 8 p.m. Feb. 25 and 26, and 2 p.m. Feb. 27 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, 11401 Leesville Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27613.
TICKETS: $15 ($12 students and seniors), except $10 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919/264-7089, email@example.com, or https://www.etix.com/. SHOW: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/.
NOTE 1: Representatives from the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Chapter (http://www.CatfishChapter.org/) of the ALS Association (http://www.alsa.org/) will be in the lobby at each show to answer questions and talk about ALS in the Triangle.
NOTE 2: At 2 p.m. on Feb. 20th, SEED Raleigh (http://www.seedraleigh.org/) will provide FREE babysitting for the first 20 children (potty trained to age 12) registered via firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 8 p.m. Feb. 25th performance.
NOTE 4: At 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 26th, there will be a preshow discussion led by Tracy Bell, assistant pastor of the Poplar Springs Christian Church (http://www.poplar-springs.org/).
The Book: http://mitchalbom.com/d/books/3856/tuesdays-morrie (author’s website), http://www.randomhouse.com/features/morrie/ (Random House), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuesdays_with_Morrie (Wikipedia).
The Play: http://mitchalbom.com/d/theater/3734/tuesdays-morrie (author’s website), http://www.randomhouse.com/features/morrie/play.html (official website), and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuesdays_with_Morrie_(film) (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0207805/ (Internet Movie Database).
Mitch Albom: http://mitchalbom.com/ (official website), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitch_Albom (Wikipedia), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0207805/ (Internet Movie Database).
Morrie Schwartz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morrie_Schwartz (Wikipedia).
ALS Therapy Development Institute: http://www.als.net/ (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review,a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Reviewpreviews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.