One evening, Mitch Albom flipped on the television and saw his former professor, Morrie Schwartz, talking on "Nightline" about what it was like to be dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Moved, Albom traveled to see Schwartz, whom he hadn't seen for years. We all know what happened next. Albom wrote the story of their final lessons together in "Tuesdays with Morrie," which spent more than four years on The New York Times best-seller list.
Now, the book has been adapted for the stage. It will make its Cleveland debut Jan. 4 (a Tuesday, of course) at the Cleveland Play House.
Playing Morrie, one of the truly great characters ever to emerge from an American memoir, is New York actor Bernie Passeltiner. One of Passeltiner's favorite lines from the play is: "It's hard to find your way in life. … We can't always do it alone. We need teachers." Cleveland Magazine talked with Passeltiner to find out what it's like to play this amazing man and whether the emotional resonance of "Tuesdays" translates to the stage.
What's it like to play Morrie, the sort of person everyone wishes they had in their lives?
"It's inspiring and humbling. It was wonderful trying to live by those precepts [and] it's a good feeling, playing Morrie. He's full of humor and good sense."
How is "Tuesdays" different from other plays you've done?
"The play is very theatrical, with Mitch doing a lot of the narration [and] the progression is very quick. [Morrie is] dancing, then he's using a walker, then he's in a wheelchair, then he's chairbound, then, finally, he's confined to his bed."
How does the play differ from the book?
"The play has less detail about Morrie's past life and family, but all the emotional stuff is there, what Morrie wanted to convey about life, living and dying. The play is structured so well that [the audience] sees Mitch go through his journey."
What is your favorite thing about the role?
"The fact that Morrie has to go places emotionally and, yet, he is very funny. In the midst of dying he still has a great sense of humor."