KPBS AIRDATE: November 03, 2006
Sometimes in life, you get a second chance, maybe even a third. But do you learn anything from the opportunity? In the case of two popular dramas, the answer seems to be no.
In Yazmina Reza’s “Life X 3,” two couples get to play out a disastrous evening three different ways. No one seems the better or the wiser for it.
In “Tuesdays with Morrie,” adapted from the best-selling, autobiographical/inspirational book by Mitch Albom, Mitch gets the opportunity to re-connect with a beloved college professor, who’s rapidly fading from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mitch had promised to stay in touch with Morrie after graduation, but 16 years have gone by without contact. Now he’s a successful, self-absorbed, work-obsessed, unhappy, unlikable automaton. He has a lot to learn from the life-affirming, aphorism-spouting Morrie. But in neither the book nor the play does Mitch seem to take that much-needed journey. Co-written by Albom and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, “Tuesdays” is making the rounds this year. It’s one of the ten most produced plays nationwide.
The tear-jerking North Coast Repertory Theatre production is absolutely worth seeing, primarily because Robert Grossman gives a stunning performance as Morrie. Even as he visibly shrivels from the debilitating disease, he maintains a palpable joy in life and living. Mike Sears does a commendable job in the far less congenial role of Mitch. The two play off each other perfectly under David Ellenstein’s finely nuanced direction. And hey, at least one of the two characters is sympathetic and likable.
In “Life X 3,” we don’t care for any of the four fiends onstage. We can all relate to the horror of an important work-superior and his wife showing up for dinner on the wrong night. But it’s a lot harder to latch onto the gratuitous cruelty of this brittle and brutal quartet. In playing the same scene three times, spouses demean and debase their mates, a mother rejects her child, the hopes and pursuits of a budding scientist are destroyed, while physics and metaphysics, String Theory and Dark Matter are bandied about to little apparent avail.
It’s not a satisfying theatrical experience, though the performances at Lamb’s Players Theatre are very well executed, under Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s direction. But there’s definitely a surfeit of yelling, outburst and meltdown, and a dearth of humor. The play, after all, is billed as a dark comedy. The scenic design, however, is beautiful, with flickering stars, a spinning earth and a rotating stage. It’s all about macrocosm and microcosm.
You may not come away from these productions armed with profound truths and insights, but you may well be strongly attracted — or repelled — by the characters they introduce.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.