Pearls of wisdom with 'Morrie'

American Stage Theatre Company opens its new state-of-the-art theater with the popular production based on Mitch Albom’s best-selling book, “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

The show, which opens 8 p.m. Friday, has become one of the top 10 produced plays in the country this season.

Director T. Scott Wooten said this tale, complete with pearls of wisdom, is indeed a classic.

“I think everybody and their cousins read the book,” he said.

The staged version of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” written by Jeffrey Hatcher, is based on the true story of Albom’s (Chaz Mena) Tuesday meetings with mentor and former college professor Morrie Schwartz. Morrie (Michael Edwards) is slowly dying from Lou Gehrig’s Disease but still maintains his optimism while teaching Albom, a hard-working writer, the true meaning of life.

From Wooten’s perspective, Albom is a man who grew up too fast, missing an important lesson — the lesson of coping with loss. As a result, he becomes isolated. Morrie’s wit and optimism helps Albom learn how to cope in life’s ebb and flow.

Edwards, who is making his debut at American Stage, is a big fan of the book and this is his fourth time portraying Morrie on stage. He believes the book has been popular because it reveals universal issues captured through the caliber of Morrie.

“We all go through compassion, love, care, community and death,” Edwards said. “We all have to deal with these problems at some point in our lives. And Morrie was a very optimistic, positive person, and very funny.”

He believes everyone has a person like Morrie in their lives. Some more than others. They serve as encouraging compasses through life.

“You never forget the ones who took the time to find your focus and say this is where you are leaning and this is where you should be heading,” Edwards said. “It’s grateful and it’s very rewarding when you remember those people 40 years later.”

There is a lot to learn through Morrie and Albom’s journey. Particularly, that there is more to life than material things.

“You’ll learn about what it really means to live a fulfilled life,” Wooten said. “A lot of people like to think that making the most money and driving the biggest car and having the biggest house is the sign of a successful life, but I think that the story teaches us, or it reinforces rather, that it’s more about the connections you make between friends and family — those are the important things in life. And to love. That’s the biggest theme of the story.”

One of the biggest pearls of wisdom that Wooten has taken from the show is patience.

“Nothing is too important that you can’t have patience or compassion and understanding” he said.

He’s also learned to “take a breath” from life’s stresses. Edwards, on the other hand, has learned to simply “live life to fullest.”

Cast members are looking forward to presenting the show in the new 184-seat Raymond James Theater, which offers more seating in a larger space. But the intimacy American Stage was known for in its old downtown spot in St. Petersburg has been carried over to the new facility, said Edwards.

“It’s very exciting,” he said of the theater. “And it smells brand new.”

Related stories from Bradenton Herald