'Tuesdays with Morrie' is emotional ride for all involved
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, January 06, 2013
1/09/13 at 1:36 AM
It was supposed to be just another play, just another set of lines to learn, just another character to bring to life on a stage.
Tom Berenson has been doing just that for years as an actor, performing in comedies, dramas and musicals for most of the city's theater companies.
He's been a part of such award-winning productions as American Theatre Company's "Twelve Angry Men" and the Broken Arrow Community Playhouse's "The Gin Game."
But the title role of the aging college professor in "Tuesdays with Morrie," which Theatre Tulsa will open this week, has been an uniquely personal experience for Berenson.
Based on the book by Mitch Albom, who co-wrote the script with playwright Jeffery Hatcher, it's the story of a series of weekly meetings between Morrie and a former student, Mitch, played by Freddie Tate.
What brings the two back together is that Mitch, a sportswriter in Detroit, happened to see an episode of a news program in which Morrie was interviewed. Morrie had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or "Lou Gehrig's disease," and was talking about dealing with his impending death.
The weekly meetings between Mitch and Morrie begin out of Mitch's guilt at not keeping in touch with his former mentor. But soon the meetings become more about Morrie passing on some lessons about living and dying, and instilling in the younger man a better way to face the remainder of his own life.
"My mother died of ALS," Berenson said. "At that time, she and my father had retired to Florida, so I wasn't there to see the progression of how this disease affected her.
"So when I went to the hospital three days before she died, it scared the living hell out of me. I didn't know what to do, what to say. I was afraid to look at death, and ashamed that I felt that fear."
Later, Berenson would be the one to tell the doctors to turn off the oxygen being given to his mother. And it would be by chance that the family was not at the hospital when Berenson's mother died.
"So she was alone," he said. "That has eaten on me for years. But then, I read the essay Albom wrote, the one that led to the book, and he talked about how Morrie had wanted to be alone when he died because he didn't want people he loved there suffering.
"And as I started learning the lines, so many of the things Morrie says take me back to that time. So doing this play has really been a catharsis for me."
It's also been something of a reunion for Berenson and Tate, who appeared in Theatre Tulsa's 2010 production of "The Day They Shot John Lennon."
"I thought working on this would be easier because of Tom," Tate said. "But really this has been one of the more difficult things I've had to do. For one thing, this is a true story, which makes you nervous because you want to treat these characters properly.
"And it's a pretty emotional play. One of the things that runs through it is Morrie trying to get Mitch to cry openly. For me, the hard part is to keep from crying all the way through the show."
Martha Cherbini, who is directing, said she had to alter her approach somewhat in dealing with the material.
"I've sort of stepped back for much of the process," she said. "I knew that Tom and Freddie had to develop a certain kind of trust to do this well. Because this is a very manipulative piece - and I mean that in a good way. But still, I knew that if we really went all-out from the start, we'd all be exhausted, physically and emotionally, before we ever opened.
"But the time has come when I said, 'OK, guys, we're really doing this thing,' " she said, laughing. "And really, that was pretty scary because maybe the intensity we need wouldn't be there. But it was.
"I think this is a play that's going to move everyone who sees it to re-examine and maybe re-interpret their own lives."
Share your story about a mentor or teacher
In conjunction with its production of "Tuesdays With Morrie," Theatre Tulsa is asking people to share their stories about the mentors and teachers in their lives.
Stories can be posted on the "Who's Your Morrie?" section of the Theatre Tulsa website, tulsaworld.com/morrie
For each story received, Theatre Tulsa will donate $5 to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The story selected as the favorite of all submitted will win two tickets to a performance of "Tuesdays with Morrie" plus a gift certificate for dinner at The Daily Grill.
‘TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE’
Presented by Theatre Tulsa
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday,
2 p.m. Jan. 13
Where: Doenges Theatre, Tulsa
PAC, 110 E. Second St.
Tickets: $12-$16. 918-596-7111,
Original Print Headline: Play is emotional ride for all
James D. Watts Jr 918-581-8478
Tom Berenson (left) and Freddie Tate rehearse the Theater Tulsa adaption of "Tuesdays with Morrie." JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Berenson and Tate also appeared together in the 2010 Theatre Tulsa production of "The Day They Shot John Lennon." JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World