‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ opens at Little Theatre

‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ opens at Little Theatre

Image Credit: Lori Feeney

First-time director and veteran Little Theatre performer Roxie Long will bring “Tuesdays with Morrie” to the stage beginning Jan. 5.

Based on the best-selling memoir of the same name, the play brings to life a series of discussions between author Mitch Albom and his former college professor Morrie Schwartz, whom he calls “the teacher.”

Although Albom had promised to stay in touch with Schwartz, life’s busyness interfered as Albom pursued his career as a sportswriter at a breakneck pace. Then he happened upon an interview of Schwartz by Ted Koppel on the television program, “Nightline.” Schwartz, he learned, was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Through a series of weekly encounters, Schwartz shares his outlook on life, death and everything in between. Chester Boffo, a Little Theatre favorite, plays Schwartz.

“One of my biggest challenges was doing justice to the character and making him believable, not being an old man myself who is as wise and experienced as Morrie,” Boffo said. “The secondary challenge was making it visually believable working with liquid latex, which is a new medium for me.”

Boffo researched the character before auditioning for the part. “I watched the ‘Nightline’ interview of him talking, saw how he moved his hands, how he smiled and how he delivered a joke,” he said.

Jack Thomas, who plays Albom, did his homework as well. “I also watched different speeches, observing how he talks with his hands and other smaller mannerisms,” he said.

Long applauds the results of their work. “Mostly, I let the actors develop their own characters, and then I will tell them what I like and what I don’t,” she said. “This is all on them. I’ve just been sitting out there watching.”

As for why she waited so long to direct, Long said, “I always wanted to direct, but I was just never brave enough. Finally, I thought, I’m 73 years old, and if I’m going to do it, it’s time.”

Long explained why she chose “Tuesdays with Morrie” for her directorial debut. “Besides the fact the story is about love and acceptance, I have lost two cousins to ALS. I’ve dedicated the show to them,” she said.

Bring a hanky or two

“As many times as I’ve read the script and seen the rehearsals, I bawl my eyes out every time,” Long said.

However, she wants people to know the show is much more than just a tear-jerker.

“Morrie had an amazing sense of humor,” Long said. “And in the end, it is really a beautiful, life-affirming story.”

“This is a wonderful show because of the lessons Morrie gives,” Boffo said. “Life is short, and if you live every day feeling it’s going to be your last, you’ll live life more fully.”

Thomas points to the cathartic nature of Morrie’s lessons. “It’s OK to let go and move on, according to Morrie. Treasure the time you have. That’s been by far the biggest lesson that has impacted me personally.”

Boffo shared a bit of one of Schwartz’s lessons. “He has a phrase he says all the time. He says you should have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I being as human as I can possibly be?’ I think that’s something people need to hear so they can live life more fully.”

Performance dates for “Tuesdays with Morrie” are Jan. 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14 and 15. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. The Sunday matinee will begin at 2:30 p.m.

The show is sponsored by Jed Michelle and Megan Miller in memory of Wilford and Jody Miller and Sarah McCulloch. Michelle Miller also is the assistant director of the show.

Tickets are $15 and are available at www.thelittletheatreonline.org, the Performing Arts Center and the Little Theatre box office starting 90 minutes before curtain time.