Cherry Creek Theatre finds the perfect pair to portray Mitch Albom’s timeless story
There’s a lot to like about Cherry Creek Theatre, a modest-sized company with a nice, consistent streak of well-produced plays. Working out of the 97-seat Pluss black-box theatre at the Mizel Center in Denver, CCT has delivered another gem with Tuesdays With Morrie.
The 2002 play based on Mitch Albom’s memoir is a story about a re-kindled friendship between a college professor dying of ALS and his former student. It’s just two actors, a simple set in Morrie’s living room and a whole lot of words about life, death and love. But there’s something about this piece that always gets me, despite its relative simplicity.
Maybe it’s the juxtaposition between an old man who’s truly learned life’s most important lessons and a younger man who, at first, just can’t hear them. There’s also the somewhat rare pairing of two heterosexual men who love one another unabashedly, crossing paths at wildly different times of life.
It’s a story we don’t hear about often enough, and portraying Morrie and Mitch requires just the right actors. Director Billie McBride did well to cast the fantastic Chris Kendall as Morrie and the impressive Antonio Amadeo as Mitch.
Kendall, who won a 2018 Outstanding Actor Henry Award for his work in Miners Alley’s District Merchants, embodies Morrie Schwartz perfectly. All the warmth, wit and charisma Albom recalls of Morrie in his book is present on stage with Kendall’s portrayal, and he does it without a trace of sap or schmaltz. Playing opposite him as the younger Mitch, Amadeo is the perfect foil to the highly centered, albeit dying, Morrie. Busy, preoccupied, rising quickly in his profession as a sportswriter and jetting around the country, Mitch is unmoored and looking for help he doesn’t even realize he needs.
In Morrie, Mitch finds a sort of guardian angel who is, as the old man acknowledges, neither fully alive nor fully dead. As such, he’s in a completely free space to share everything he knows with Mitch.
And it works out pretty well for both of them.
Under McBride’s skilled direction, CCT’s production of Tuesdays With Morrie tells the story with a minimum of fuss. There are a couple of monitors above the set that help set the scene in some places, but mostly it’s an understated production that focuses on the words and emotions that make this play a lesson unto itself.
As Mitch describes it, his series of Tuesday visits with his old college professor translate into a sort of final class taught by Morrie for an audience of one. Somehow, Mitch finds time to make a dozen or so Tuesday visits as Morrie’s condition gradually worsens. The old man’s gentle but convincing wisdom countermands much of what Mitch is driven by, and the visits change him visibly over the course of the show (presented without intermission).
It’s a moving and powerful script that’s as poignant today as ever. Cherry Creek’s production is first rate, and seeing it unfold in the intimate space of the Pluss Theatre just adds to the emotional impact.
As McBride says in her show notes, Tuesdays With Morrie isn’t a show about dying or death; it’s about living, and living well. Morrie’s lessons are eternally useful, and it’s impossible to leave the theatre without reflecting on our own choices as Mitch does.