No Toothaches Only Smiles
By Walter Ang
January 14, 2008
Bart Guingona plays the author Mitch Albom, a sports journalist who reconnects with his old college professor Morrie Schwartz.
Though successful in his chosen career, Albom feels empty and lost. Guingona aptly plays him as a high strung alpha male but is able to show his vulnerable sides.
Sixteen years after his college graduation, events lead Albom to seek out his old mentor, who unfortunately, has developed Lou Gehrig's disease.
Morrie, despite being stricken with this incurable degenerative disease of the nervous system, vows to live the remainder of his life to the fullest.
Albom is the lucky recipient of Morrie's relentless drive to remain a teacher (even if he's no longer an employee of his old university). In a clever move, Morrie convinces Albom to visit him every Tuesday of the week and "manages over the course of the following months to impart to his former student the most important lessons of all."
The premise of the play makes it seem dangerous to stage as it can easily slip into hokey melodrama. Admittedly, there were some dialogue that bordered precariously into giving the audience a toothache, but thankfully, under the direction of Rep co-founder Baby Barredo, the material unfolds without any nonsense and gimmicks. The tension is sustained and Albom's resistance to getting in touch with his "touchy feely" side provides a foil to any possibilities of the story turning into a cartoon.
It is interesting to see Rep using new and popular material for its line-up. Aside from the book, Tuesdays was adapted into a TV movie produced by Oprah Winfrey starring Hank Azaria (as Albom) and Jack Lemmon (as Schwartz). This decision to interweave more "modern" plays with classics (Hamlet is next in Rep's current line-up) may attract more audiences to the theater and build a stronger market for the performing arts.
The revelation of this production is the actor who plays Morrie: Jose Mari Avellana. He has incredible presence onstage and lends much gravitas to the character. His performance is nuanced, gentle, funny, powerful and heart wrenching. Although some of the timing for the punchlines are still a bit off on opening weekend, these two actors carry the story evenly and have a chemistry about them.
When one reads the short biography of Avellana in the souvenir programme, it's no wonder that his past work experience reveals extensive forays into theater, advertising, radio, television and film. Another interesting tidbit: his parents are National Artists Lambert and Daisy Avellana. If not for anything, go watch this play for his performance.
Tuesdays with Morrie runs until January 27 at Onstage Theater, 2/F Greenbelt 1, Ayala Center, Makati City. For details, call 887-0710 or visit www.repertory-philippines.com. Tickets also available at Ticketworld at 8919999 or their website at www.ticketworld.com.ph
Hendri Go of Little Boy Productions will be bringing this production to Cebu City on February 2 at SM City Cebu Cinema. For details about the Cebu staging, please call (63917)815-5794.