Sixteen years after graduation, Mitch had forgotten all about his college experience until he caught a random episode of television’s “Nightline” featuring an interview with Morrie, now battling Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mitch decides to seek out his old mentor, and what begins as a simple visit turns into a weekly pilgrimage.
While staged well enough by director James Ong, Pollard Theatre’s production lacks the kind of emotional resonance one would expect from such a reliable plucker of heart strings. With a cast of two on a stage this size, there’s a lot riding on the actors to fill that space and sell the story of one man learning how to live as the other makes peace with death.
right, James A. Hughes as Morrie
Michael Edsel doesn’t make any awful choices as an actor, but he doesn’t make any bold ones, either. Instead of playing Mitch, Edsel gives us a version of himself. He’s at his best in the role when playing opposite James A. Hughes as Morrie.
While too young for the part, Hughes brings Morrie to life, with a little help from heavy makeup. His performance, while not the most natural, is engaging.
For “Morrie,” the Pollard stage is often bisected by a screen, allowing for lovely lighting cues designed by Jake DeTommaso, and a visual delineation between the past and present during some of Mitch’s monologues.
The unfortunate consequence of this setup is that scenes between Morrie and Mitch are performed at the stage’s rear, putting too much distance between attendees and performers.
Jerome Stevenson’s intentionally minimal sets serve their purpose without distraction, keeping the focus on the actors. The sound design could use some tweaking, particularly with piano tracks far too quiet to be effective.
In the end, “Morrie” feels like a play on life support with only half of the two-person cast operating at peak efficiency, allowing for some of the script’s hokier elements to shine through.