Thats a Morrie

To get his production of “Tuesdays with Morrie” right, theater director Richard Stein called in the big guns: Yiddish language experts.

“Morrie grew up in an immigrant family,” says Stein of the title character. “He uses some Yiddish phrases in the play, so we had discussions as to the proper grammar. Some experts very generously gave their advice.”

Authenticity matters when bringing to the stage a beloved a book

like Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie.” The stage adaptation makes its West Coast premiere at the San Jose Repertory Theater, with previews beginning Saturday, Oct. 16, and opening night on Friday, Oct. 22.

Albom, who co-wrote the script, saw his 1997 bestseller top 5 million in sales, with Oprah Winfrey later producing a TV movie version starring the late Jack Lemmon.

The book recounts Albom’s reconnection with his teacher, Morrie Schwartz, who lay dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Over a series of weekly visits, the two form a kind of father-son bond, as Morrie shares his wisdom about life and love.

But the play version is anything but the static recreation of a sickroom.

Rather than simply stage bedside conversations, the play applies “an imaginative storytelling methodology,” says Stein. “Actors talk to the audience and skip backward and forward in time.”

The play remains faithful to the book in most respects, according to Stein, but it is “as much about Mitch Albom’s personal transformation as it is about the resilience of a man given a death sentence and determined to live life to its fullest to the end.”

The show opened in New York a year ago, when Stein, executive director of the Laguna Playhouse, saw it and loved it. After conferring with the San Jose Repertory Theatre, both companies decided to co-produce the West Coast premiere. The night the Laguna run ended, the company packed up and headed for San Jose.

Though it isn’t a “Jewish” play per se, both characters in “Tuesdays with Morrie” are Jewish, as are actor Jack Axelrod (Morrie) and director Stein.

“It’s a good play for the times,” says Stein, “because it’s about getting in touch with feelings, being a real human being and all that that engenders.”

Stein credits his Jewish background for his appreciation for such things. The son of an Air Force major, he grew up bouncing from base to base before settling in Hartford, Conn. Though his family was not religious, Stein harbored ambitions to become a rabbi. He even attended Jewish Theological Seminar before he discovered theater.

He attended graduate school at Syracuse University, where he started the Contemporary Theater of Syracuse. He went on to run the theater at the University of Hartford before moving to California. In 1990 he took the reins at the Laguna Playhouse where today he manages an operating budget of more than $6 million.

This latest staging marks the first time he has teamed up with another regional theater company.

Stein notes that doing “Tuesdays with Morrie” had added significance for him. His own father died just a few months ago, which only heightened for him the depth of the play’s central relationship.

“For me it was a struggle,” he says of directing the play. “The love Mitch had for that man is something not many of us can fulfill. But the rehearsal process I found to be almost a religious experience. It’s certainly a most endearing story. Sentimental yes, but there is a moral statement.”

“Tuesdays with Morrie” runs Oct. 16-Nov. 14, at San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio. Shows 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. as well as some Tuesday dates. Matinees 2 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $11-$52. Information: (408) 367-7255, or

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.