“Dying is one thing to be sad over. Living unhappily is something else.”
That sentiment from Morrie Schwartz was at the heart of the local production of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” which opened Thursday at the State Theatre.
In the story, Mitch Albom arrives for the first of what will become weekly visits with the man he calls “Coach,” and Morrie immediately sees that he is not the same idealistic college student he taught at Brandeis University 16 years prior. Mitch now is caught up in the rat race of being a sports journalist, and Schwartz can tell that he’s not happy.
Over the next few months, Mitch finds himself flying from Detroit to Newton, Mass., every Tuesday to interview Morrie. Along the way, he realizes that true friends matter more than any byline ever could.
“Tuesdays with Morrie” is produced by the Next Stage theatre company and stars A. Bryan Humphrey as Morrie and Mike Waldhier as Mitch. The 80-minute play alternates between Mitch’s narration to the audience and scenes from Morrie and Mitch’s meetings.
Morrie’s health slowly deteriorates throughout the course of his meetings with Mitch, and the play ends with his death from ALS. Mitch initially is reluctant to acknowledge Morrie’s illness — perhaps out of fear of his own mortality — but ends his final visit helping Morrie into bed and telling him he loved him.
The entire journey is believable because of the strength of Humphrey and Waldhier’s performances. Waldhier transitioned seamlessly from aloof to endearing as Mitch reconnects with Morrie. Humphrey made sure that Morrie’s sense of humor came through, no matter how grim his situation became.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the production was a recording of Natascha Hoffmeyer singing “The Very Thought of You” as Mitch’s wife Janine Sabino. Though Morrie was practically immobile by that point, he swayed in his wheelchair to the soothing vocals as Mitch looked on.
Before Morrie dies, he has one final request for Mitch — that their conversations continue at this gravesite. Mitch obliges, and in one scene brings a picnic lunch and fills Morrie in on what’s going on in his life, just as he had for 16 weeks prior.
Mitch’s final words to the audience are a culmination of everything that happened over the course of his visits, and a lesson that everyone with a busy, overscheduled life can benefit from: “When you live your life with people as the priority, the memories you make live on in the hearts of others.”