Portraying real people in two-man show is challenging
By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The cast members of "Tuesdays with Morrie" at The Schultz Theatre in New Market are no strangers to dramas, but they've found challenges in offering the stage play derived from author Mitch Albom's popular book.
David Wood, who plays Morris "Morrie" S. Schwartz, Albom's mentor who died from ALS in 1995, and his costar, Chris Whitney, said they feared audience members won't want to see what they might perceive a sad story, but the actors hope the community will consider the play's emotional impact and focus less on Schwartz's death.
"I try to keep it light," Wood said. "You know you're going to die, so come see the play anyway."
Director Michael Gwin agreed, "It's lessons in life."
Whitney, who plays Albom in the autobiographical story of a young man who visits his former college professor every Tuesday during the elder man's late stages of terminal illness, said he knew the story already from reading the book.
"I think it's a really good story," Whitney said. "I think anyone could enjoy the story."
"I remember hearing TV interviews with him," he said. Those who have read the book might gain a different experience from seeing the play, though.
"My memory from the book and the play are pretty different," Whitney said.
In Schultz's rendition, before the actors even take the stage, the audience will see the real Schwartz and Albom in a video projection above the stage, Gwin said.
Don and Carmen Conard, who own the building at 9357 N. Congress St. that houses the theater, provide special effects for the play, including the opening video of an interview that Albom did with Schwartz.
"They help a lot," Gwin said, adding that Mrs. Conard will be the assistant director in "The Passion of Dracula" in October.
"We couldn't ask for better people," Gwin said. Conard had equally high praise for the cast of "Tuesdays with Morrie."
"I saw the movie with Jack Lemmon [as Schwartz] and these guys are even better," he said.
For Wood, playing Schwartz has been a challenge.
"It's pretty intimidating playing a real famous person who's faced death with a lot of courage," Wood said.
Portraying someone who lived in recent history is especially risky, he said, because so many people knew and remember Schwartz and can compare Wood's performance of Schwartz to the real person.
But Gwin assured, "These guys, they haven't imitated. They haven't imitated other actors or the real [people]."
This is Wood's fourth show at The Schultz Theatre, but playing Schwartz has been a unique experience for him.
In his first show at the theater, Wood played a bumbling private eye. Then he played an English lord and, most recently, the comedic Felix in "The Odd Couple."
"We've done other dramas," director Michael Gwin said, listing "Crystal Clear" and "Death of a Salesman" as examples. "Tuesdays with Morrie" offers a different experience because it requires only two actors.
He chose it because the audience would know it, Gwin said, but also, "I love working with small casts and it just had a lot of character development."
"I like the digging in and really examining the characters," something he cannot always achieve with a large cast.
Whitney, who played Kai in January's "The Dew Point," has experience with two-man shows.
In such situations, Whitney said, "We definitely have a lot more freedom," but there's difficulty in being on stage for the entire show, he said.
"I enjoy working with a small cast," Wood said. "I'd like to do it again.
"Tuesdays with Morrie" will play at The Schultz Theatre, at 9357 N. Congress St. in New Market on July 13 to 15 and 20-22. Performances will be on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 740-9119.