Tuesdays with Morrie: Lifelong lessons

Theatre director Breda Cashe says that when she first read the dramatised version of Mitch Albom’s memoir, Tuesdays with Morrie, she thought it “might be a little cheesy and sentimental”. But when the actors read the two-hander, the comedy emerged, even though it’s a true story about dying.

Of course, it’s about more than dying. The play, written by Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, is a parable for our fast-paced world. It’s an exhortation to slow down, smell the roses and heed WH Auden’s wise observation: “We must love one another or die,” which is quoted by Morrie.

Morrie Schwartz, a 78-year-old sociology professor, who taught at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, is dying from motor neurone disease. His former student, Albom, sees him on television and learns about his illness. Albom is a sports journalist now and hasn’t met Morrie in 16 years, so he travels from Michigan to Massachusetts every Tuesday, for 14 weeks, to see his former mentor.

Albom wrote the best-selling Tuesdays with Morrie in 1997. It chronicles Morrie’s life and philosophy and is interspersed with references to contemporary events. The book was adapted into a TV movie starring Jack Lemmon and Hank Azaria. The play is returning to Cork, having been staged at the Grainstore in Ballymaloe and at the Cork Opera House a few years ago.

Cashe, who directs and produces, says it’s about accepting who you are and accepting other people. “It’s about living fully. It was written prior to the whole mindfulness movement. But that’s what Morrie was preaching. It’s about living in the moment and not being part of the rat race.” Cashe has met Albom and says he gave her an amazing insight into what happened between the two men. “Meeting Mitch was a way of getting into the story.”

Terry Byrne plays Morrie; Andy Murray plays Mitch. “They have a very good working relationship, having acted together many times. The play depends on the chemistry between the right actors. That chemistry has really propelled this production. It talks to so many different generations. The book is on the reading list for secondary school students here and there’s been a huge amount of interest, from schools, in the play.”

Reconnecting with Morrie changed Albom’s life. “Morrie really wanted Mitch to see him every Tuesday, not because he was dying, but because he saw that Mitch was a little bit lost. When he knew him as a younger person, in college, he saw a guy with a good heart and soul. Sixteen years later, he saw a different man, a guy that was on the treadmill. Morrie wanted to get Mitch off that, so the two of them were kind of redemptive for each other.”

Byrne is in his 70s and does a fine job of portraying an ageing man with a debilitating illness. “It’s hard to watch Terry’s portrayal of what happens when the body starts to disintegrate. Morrie’s mind is perfectly fine and crisp, but his body lets him down. All the normal things that we take for granted, like moving and eating, are full of difficulties.” But the play’s humour and authenticity resound.

Tuesdays with Morrie is at the Everyman from Thursday to Saturday


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