‘Tuesdays With Morrie.’
By Sue Langenberg
Second show already at Timber Lake Playhouse of Mt. Carroll is “Tuesdays With Morrie,” a moving version of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller of 2000.
The 1997 memoir by Mitch Albom of the same name enamored a large audience of readers and quite predictably was adapted for film. But the play, based on the book and co-written by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, holds the original magic in a most simplistic presentation. The venue of stage, lighting and minimalist set design often reaches deeper into the imagination and is much more effective, according to special guest TLP director Chuck Smith.
Smith enjoyed his 12th consecutive season as guest director for this play and was handed TLP Hall of Fame Award presented by Board President Larry Libberton on opening night. Smith’s accolades precede his TLP experience with a long list of accomplishments including Chicago’s Goodman Theatre as artistic staff member for over 20 years and associate producer of Legacy Productions, a Chicago-based touring company. His awards for directing are also a long list including Chicago Emmy Award as associate producer/theatrical director for the NBC teleplay \”Crime of Innocence\” and directed Emmy- winning \”Fast Break to Glory.\”
TLP Executive Director James Beaudry notes, Smith makes the most out of his simple presence, or “less is more,” comments Smith about his method of the actors developing the characters into the story.
Only two actors needed for this heart-wrenching ultimate lesson in life: a dying professor (Robert Maher) and a young career-driven ex-student (Courtney Crouse) who thinks he has everything figured out about life. Except death, of course, and as Morrie Scwartz fails from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), the elder philosophizes about fnally understanding life only when facing death.
As Morrie, Bob Maher also represents the best-of-the-best, a TLP specialty that brings accomplished professionals to the boonies. His 50 years of acting includes more than 150 plays, many TLP productions including “Urinetown,” “West Side Story” and “Moon Over Buffalo.” He was well-cast in this play as Morrie with his richness of character peppered with unexpected humor, a comical relief.
As ex-student Mitch, Crouse portrayed a wonderful initial scoffing-at-life attitude that gradually morphed into reality and tears, albeit a bit late as his mentor fades away. Crouse is also a TLP best-of-the-best as Chicago actor with roles in “South Pacific,” “Grease” and four Jeff Award nominations for Best Actor in a Principal Role in a Musical and Best Actor in Supporting Role in a Musical. It was a pleasure to watch his work.
Symbols and themes all over this production represent everything we have tried to embrace in life, but time is not on our side or, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” (Buddha.) The lit upstage tree seems to gradually shed leaves as Morrie notes that the leaves are the most colorful before they drop. Or, we are at our peak before we die.
Other notable appearances in ‘Tuesdays’ were Sarah Larson with her lovely image of love song and Pianist Mark Miller whose additional plunking represented time and mood passing.
In the end…well never mind the end. This play is an ultimate life lesson, bring Kleenex.
“Tuesdays With Morrie” runs ten more performances at Timber Lake Playhouse through June 29. All evening performances are 7:30 p.m., Sunday and Wednesday matinees at 2 p.m., Saturday matinee June 22 at 3 p.m. No show Monday June 24. Group rates available. Tickets go fast, and TLP is a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road, in the boonies of Mt. Carroll. Contact the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for more information. Next show, \”The Music Man.\”