Loving Finish

Tuesdays with Morrie serves its inspiration warm.

“Love is the only rational act,” says the merry old sociology professor who claims to have turned Jerry Rubin and Angela Davis into radicals. He then goes on to show another favorite pupil that there are wonderful lessons to be learned from a slow death from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Detroit sportswriter Mitch Albom — whose series of interviews became the book Tuesdays with Morrie — took these lessons firmly to heart. Death changed Albom’s life, and in the stage adaptation of Tuesdays — essentially a Socratic dialogue with props and piano music — we see the beginning of that process.

Gabriel Marin sells Mitch as driven and emotionally stunted; it’s almost painful to watch his character resisting the love he’s being offered. The real Mitch is fixated on affection withheld, a theme that recurs in his books. You get the impression he was raised in a household where nobody touched anyone else. While the play’s Mitch does soften, the transition is subtly handled by both actors. Meanwhile Morrie instructs us to delight in frivolity, love, music, and egg salad. Jack Axelrod is sweetly excitable as the teacher who waited sixteen years for his self-involved student to keep a graduation-day promise. From the opening where he shows off his dance moves to his last breathless instructions, he’s not just the professor you always wanted, but the affectionate, lovingly intrusive grandfather.

Tuesdays could verge on treacly for some. But it seemed to give great comfort to a group of hospice nurses in attendance, and inspired another audience member to talk to a dying friend he’d been avoiding. There are little bumps, but then very little stands in the way of spreading Morrie’s sunny, uncomplicated message to the three or four people who have managed to avoid the book for all the years it’s been on the best-seller lists.

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