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Life lessons

Harvey Cocks and Richard Marchbanks star in Tuesdays With Morrie

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-03-24


Talk to Harvey Cocks and Richard Marchbanks about their roles in the Civic Theater’s production of Tuesdays with Morrie, which begins its run on March 28, and they’ll both tell you how honored they are to be able to play these parts, how they’re discovering more and more about the characters during rehearsals, and how much they’ve grown to admire the two people they’re portraying on stage. All of which is true.

But press Harvey Cocks just a little bit, and he’ll tell you there’s a certain amount of trepidation there, too. The play is, of course, based on Mitch Albom’s 1997 book, which tells the story of the relationship between sports journalist Albom (Richard Marchbanks) and his former teacher Morrie Schwartz (Harvey Cocks), a sociology professor at Brandeis University who is dying of ALS. There’s probably a law somewhere that requires anyone talking about Tuesdays With Morrie to always use the phrase “best-selling” before the title, but that hardly does justice to the kazillions of copies that the book has sold.

In short, it’s a story everyone seems to know, and Morrie Schwartz is a man everyone seems to admire. “I’ve never been so honored to play a character in my entire life, and I’ve been in many, many plays,” says Cocks, who in addition to his regular gig as the director of Fort Wayne Youtheatre, tries to act in about one production a year (“it’s to help keep the old brain functioning”). “To get to play this part… I just hope I can be honest with him, and fulfill the image people have of him.”

Stories that are this loved come with a lot of baggage and expectations. Cocks believes the reason so many people have responded to the story and to Schwartz is the man’s courage and honesty. “He found out he had ALS and then he decides ‘well, I’m going to live as long as I have left’. He lives with each progressive stage of his illness, and he’s still brave.”

“I just believe his philosophy is so wonderful and he’s such a great person,” Cocks adds, trying to sum up the appeal. “He says the only thing to really regret is if you’ve lived the wrong life, if you’ve gone after the wrong things. And I think it’s true. Some people are working so hard and running so fast they don’t have time to stop and think and look at the world and what values are.”

When he reconnects with Schwartz, Mitch Albom is the archtypical “chaser after false gods.” An up and coming sports journalist, Albom is beginning to reap some of the material benefits of his success, but still finds himself unsatisfied and discontent. Richard Marchbanks describes Albom as “neurotic” in the beginning. But Marchbanks says the way the friendship develops between the two men is one of the reasons the story has been so popular. “It kind of bridges generations,” he says. “There’s a 41-year age difference between the two. The story develops a relationship between a professor and a student at a certain time in life, and then shows how that relationship later picks up and crosses a huge generation gap.”

“I also think everyone can relate to the situation where someone near to them has passed,” Marchbanks adds. “A lot of people have been involved in that process, meaning they’ve been there during the slow decline, and the care-giving, and the demise of that individual.”

Sounds like heavy stuff. And it is. In fact, Harvey Cocks says early on in rehearsals he was playing Schwartz very seriously. But director Phillip Colglazier believes that one of the keys to the story’s message lies in Morrie’s sense of humor. “It’s that message that transforms Albom, it’s his unique perspective that is so captivating, so we worked to make sure that is conveyed,” says Colglazier. “Morrie has such a sense of humor, even through some of the hardest things he’s dealing with.”

Tuesdays With Morrie is part of the Civic Theatre’s Civic Off Main series, and will be performed in the auditorium of the Allen County Library. The Civic uses the smaller venue for more adventurous and more intimate fare than you might find on the main stage at the Arts United Center, and Tuesdays With Morrie definitely falls into the latter category. “Being closer to the audience like this really allows them more intimacy,” says Colglazier. “It’s more conducive to these type of plays.”

And whatever “baggage” the audience brings to the Civic’s production of Tuesdays With Morrie — whether they know the book by heart or have seen the film — Marchbanks says the intimacy of the play makes it a completely different experience. “I feel the play has a lot more to offer. It’s a lot more insightful, has a lot more of an impact than the movie. It can be more emotional for the audience.”

The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents Tuesdays With Morrie
Friday and Saturday, March 28 and 29 at 8 pm; Sunday March 30 at 2 pm
Friday and Saturday, April 4 and 5 at 8 pm; Sunday January 6 at 2 pm
Friday and Saturday April 11 and 12 at 8 pm; Sunday April 13 at 2 pm.
Friday and Saturday April 18 and 19 at 8 pm; Sunday April 20 at 2 pm.
Allen County Public Library Auditorium
Tickets: $15 adults; $10 ages 23 and under; $12 seniors and Sunday matinees
Box Office: (260) 424.5220 or online: www.fwcivic.org

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