The Elmira Theatre company is capping off its 2022-2023 season with a play that is humorous in nature while dealing with the serious subjects of death and the fear of dying.
Starting later this month the company will be staging Tuesdays with Morrie, which is based on the book of the same name.
Written by journalist Mitch Albom the story describes his real-life experiences of reconnecting with his former college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who had recently been diagnosed with ALS. While they had a close relationship as teacher and student, the pair lost touch with each other as Albom moved through his career. That is until Albom saw an episode of Nightline depicting Schwartz’s battle with the disease. Albom paid a visit to Schwartz every Tuesday until his death months later. The stage production was written by Albom and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher.
In those discussions, Schwartz taught Albom his views on life and creating meaning in it.
“The two characters are at different crossroads in their lives – everyone can relate to what’s going on here. There’s an old man who’s facing the fear of death, and there’s a young man who is facing the fears of life,” explained Micheal Austin, who will be playing Morrie in the upcoming production.
“The things that happen between them are things that any audience can appreciate, take to heart and feel within themselves,” Austin said.
One of the several lessons that Schwartz teaches is about aging and not being jealous of the younger generation, explained director Susan Garner.
“Age isn’t about decay, it’s about wisdom and knowing more and being able to look back on your life. And every time I read that, I kind of get a little bit welled up, but the thought of that, because we do worry about ‘Oh, I’m getting older.’ I hate it and this just sort of changes that around. There are lots of little moments like that, that just sort of pick you up,” she said of the play.
The set is key to the intimacy of the play, Garner noted.
“Conceptually it’s all about a semicircle, feeling like a hug.” Beyond this Garner is a big believer of telling the story that the playwright has created.
“I try to really figure out what the play is saying and then bring that to life as best we can with all of its nuances. I think it’s fairly straightforward.”
Austin is joined by Michael Klein, who plays Albom. Garner said she is thrilled about the cast.
“We had quite a few people try out because the characters are kind of iconic. I’m just delighted with this cast, and they’re working really hard. They hit it off, and it’s a difficult show to rehearse because some of the subject matter is really quite moving. So you have to take care of your actors and make sure that they’re supported as they work on the difficult things,” she explained.
There is something for each theatregoer no matter their stage in life, Garner said.
“[It’s about] ‘What is the legacy of our life?’ and ‘What are we doing to continue to live and be vibrant?’ – all of that sort of stuff. I think it really hits you differently depending on what your life is and what you need to take from it, which I think is kind of one of the beauties of the play,” she said.
The Elmira Theatre Company production of Tuesdays with Morrie runs from April 28 to May 13 with shows on Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25, available through the ETC website, www.elmiratheatre.com.