In 1997, author Mitch Albom published what would become the best-selling memoir ever.
Now, “Tuesdays with Morrie” is a stage play at Theater J running through Dec. 5 at the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, D.C. on 16th Street Northwest.
“It’s a remarkable play and book about learning how to live, how to value the things around you, and the lessons that teachers pass on to their students,” Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr told WTOP. “It was an enormous success initially in New York and has gone on to be produced around the country. This is its first major showing in the D.C. region.”
Adapted by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher in 2002, the story follows sportswriter Mitch Albom, who visits his former Brandeis University professor Morrie Schwartz after his terminal diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“He saw his longtime teacher and mentor in college being interviewed on TV,” Immerwahr said. “The result was that Mitch started to go and visit him every Tuesday and reconnect with him and record the stories that Mitch had to tell.”
While Schwartz’s body was deteriorating, he still had all of his mental faculties.
“ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease,” Immerwahr said. “A diagnosis with ALS is unfortunately a diagnosis for death. There is no cure. … It’s a disease that causes the mind to stay strong while the body slowly starts to waste away. … It’s the kind of disease that makes you confront your mortality, what your passing will be, what your life has been.”
What is Albom’s character arc throughout these weekly meetings?
“When Mitch Albom first returns to Morrie Schwartz’s life after many years of running away from his former teacher, he’s a hardened, tough, career-focused journalist trying to chase a dream at the expense of living his life,” Immerwahr said. “In many ways, it’s about the change that happens to Mitch after these incredible, powerful, funny conversations.”
The two-hander play stars Michael Russotto as Morrie and Cody Nickell as Mitch.
“Two of the finest actors in the D.C. region,” Immerwahr said. “They’re both longtime company members of Woolly Mammoth [Theatre Company]. … They connect with the deep, powerful places that this play needs to go. They’re both also very funny actors … finding all of the humor and joy in this beautiful story about letting go and moving on.”
It’s all visually brought to life by director Jenna Place.
“Director Jenna Place and set designer Debra Kim Sivigny have created a beautiful, somewhat abstract setting,” Immerwahr said. “The image you see when you first come in is of a Japanese maple tree, leaves turning red. The entire play takes place under that tree.”
Mitch Albom will hold a book talk event for his new book at Theater J on Nov. 30.
Stay tuned for our follow-up conversation with Albom later this month on WTOP.