08/29/04 — 'Tuesdays with Morrie'

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'Tuesdays with Morrie'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 29, 2004 8:18 AM

What better tour guide can there be on a journey than someone who has already traveled the road himself?

That was true of Morrie Schwartz and now it is again true as Ed Hogan picks up the mantle.

Schwartz is the Brandeis University professor catapulted to fame when his battle with Lou Gehrig's disease landed him three interviews with Ted Koppel on "Nightline" and later as the subject of a former student's best-selling book, "Tuesdays with Morrie."

Hogan is a Wayne Community College professor waging his own battle with cancer. He chose to use his talents as an actor to portray Schwartz at the college Friday night in a benefit performance for Kitty Askins Hospice Center.

The 90-minute stage version of "Tuesdays with Morrie" brought out a near-capacity crowd. Directed by Mary Rowland and produced by Dr. Ron Taylor and Winkie Lee, the play also featured Adam Williams, a recent Wayne Community graduate and former student of Hogan's. He embodied the role of Schwartz's former student, Mitch Albom.

All parallels Hogan and Williams shared with Schwartz and Albom were left backstage as the local actors relied on their own chemistry to tell a story.

It started out as a relationship between student and teacher. When Williams' character graduated, a verbal promise was extracted from his mentor: "Morrie, I promise you I will stay in touch."

He didn't. For 16 years.

"What happened?" Williams' character asked. "Life happened."

The once-cocky college kid found himself on the fast track of life when he became an ambitious sportswriter. One night he happened upon the first interview Schwartz did with Koppel, jolting Mitch into the reality of how much time had lapsed since graduation day.

In a clever bit of editing, a screen came down on stage and the "Nightline" theme began to play. Koppel's voice could be heard, his back to the camera, a graying man in soft focus seated across from him. As the image became clearer, it was Hogan as Morrie.

Responding with an obligatory "good deed visit" to his beloved professor, Williams was drawn into a series of weekly sessions that continued until Schwartz's death. Nuggets and truths about life were passed back and forth between the two.

Portrayed with humor and light-hearted banter, the actors captured the central message that Schwartz tried to impart: Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.

"You have got to embrace life and sometimes it will embrace you back," Hogan said.

He told Williams, often seen juggling the commitments required to become successful, "Some people are running so fast that they don't know where they are going."

But mostly, he imparted to his up-and-coming protégé the importance of saying the things that need to be said all along the way, rather than waiting until the very end of life.

With sparse scenery throughout the play -a piano, a table and chair, later a hospital bed- there were also no costume changes or enhanced makeup. Yet Hogan was able to believably take the audience down the path that would be Schwartz's last. He made it a memorable journey, just as it had been a memorable life.

As the lights faded to one spotlight on Williams after Hogan's character died, Williams stood solemnly on the stage with his newfound wisdom and insight clearly heartfelt.

"If you give of yourself as Morrie did, you make people a priority," he said. "Make memories. Then when you die, you're not really gone.

"You live inside the hearts of everyone you have ever touched."