It’s a pretty impressive acheivement: over 11 million copies of “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom, exist world wide and it is currently the best-selling memoir of all time. So, not surprising that many of you may have read it: or have seen the book promoted on TV, (book-clubbed by Oprah)? Or perhaps the film starring Jack Lemmon and Hank Azaria (produced by Oprah)? And now, the stage production written by Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, makes its Australian Premiere at the Ensemble Theatre.

I must confess I own a copy of Tuesdays with Morrie – a gift from a long lost colleague- which I also must confess has remained untouched for nine years on my bookshelf. So I write with the focus on this production with complete ignorance of the book, the film or the book club discussion: but whilst being aware that they do exist.

The story is very straightforward. Career focussed Mitch Albom (Glenn Hazeldine) reunites with his beloved college professor Morrie Schwartz (Daniel Mitchell) once he discoveres Morrie is dying of Motor Neurone Disease (ALS/Lou Gerig’s Disease.) But as with lessons themselves, it’s the journey that matters the most. As both men discuss some of the most difficult and personal questions life has to offer: their relationship strengthens. Mitch is able to better understand the value of life through Morrie’s gradual decline, and re-evaluates his actions and his priorities up until that moment.

This production is beautifully directed by Mark Kilmurray and simply constructed. Elegant design from Brian Nickless and lighting from Peter Neufeld facilitate this neat and intimate duet. Sound designer Daryl Wallis incorporates a wonderful pastiche of soundscape and music to create tension within Mitch’s world.

Most remarkable are the performances which are beautifully balanced by Kilmurray. Daniel Mitchell provides a fun-loving and inspiring Morrie, who is mentally lithe, physically helpless and utterly charming, whilst Glenn Hazeldine is a dedicated and career- focussed Mitch. Hazeldine’s performance portrays a loveable and likeable man, living a demanding life. In the hands of a lesser actor, one could dismiss Mitch as a self centred parasite, but in this case, Hazeldine has crafted a fine performance allowing Mitch to be a good person, in a difficult life and thus he undergoes a believable transformation. The pairing is both delicate and sincere, as Mitch begins to soften under the tutelage of Morrie, it is easy to understand their relationship and what it means to both of them. This is a play about heartfelt searching and

Opportune time to be running (at the beginning of 2009,) when reflection and resolutions are at the forefront of one’s mind, Tuesdays with Morrie is personal exploration at its most entertaining. If we are to understand Morrie’s observation: “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.” Conversely when the culture does make us feel good about ourselves we should buy it, and by that I mean: buy a ticket, take a friend (and a box of tissues) and start the year with an enriching experience.

Despite the inevitable ending and sobering topic Ensemble Theatre’s production of Tuesdays with Morrie is a surprisingly funny and tender play… full of quick one liners and insightful banter… and I may be finally opening that neglected gift on my bookshelf.