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American Stage's sparkling Act II begins with 'Tuesdays With Morrie'

Chaz Mena, right, rehearses his role as Mitch Albom and Michael Edwards rehearses his as former professor Morrie Schwartz for American Stage’s first play at its new theater.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Chaz Mena, right, rehearses his role as Mitch Albom and Michael Edwards rehearses his as former professor Morrie Schwartz for American Stage’s first play at its new theater.

By MARTY CLEAR

Times Correspondent

It wasn't supposed to be the first play that American Stage produced in its new theater. After construction delays and scheduling shifts, it just happened to work out that way.

Turned out to be one of those happy accidents. People who know the play say Tuesdays With Morrie seems a perfect choice to inaugurate the new home of St. Petersburg's premier theater company.

"Morrie being the first show in the space, it seems so appropriate," said director T. Scott Wooten. "It's about dealing with loss, but it's also about making the most of opportunities."

Adapting a much-loved book and movie helps.

"If you talked to 10 people, you'd probably find that nine of them have read the book," Wooten said.

And a lot of the people who didn't read the book saw the 1999 TV movie with Jack Lemmon in the title role. (It was Lemmon's last movie, except for an uncredited role as the narrator in The Legend of Bagger Vance.)

So almost everyone knows the story: Detroit sportswriter Mitch Albom sees a piece on the TV news about a former professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is slowly dying of ALS and decides to rekindle their friendship. Eventually he and Morrie decide to meet every week. Albom hops a plane from Detroit to Boston for their weekly date and gets life lessons from a man who is learning to value every moment.

The play pares away all the characters except Albom and Schwartz, played here by Chaz Mena and Michael Edwards.

This will be Edwards' first role at American Stage, but he has played Morrie three times before. It turned out to be a blessing.

"He understands how to move the disease along in stage time," Mena said, "but he doesn't have that attitude of 'I've done this before and this is the way it's supposed to be done and that's all there is to it.' He's a true professional."

The new space, officially called the Raymond James Theatre, has been designed to provide a similar theatrical experience as American Stage's longtime home nearby: It kept a midsized (182 seats) capacity and a somewhat unconventional theater-in-the-corner layout.

>> Fast Facts

Tuesdays With Morrie

The play runs through June 28 at the Raymond James Theatre, 163 Third St. N. Preview at 7:30 p.m. tonight, with shows at 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. $24-$39. (727) 823-7529 or americanstage.org.

American Stage's sparkling Act II begins with 'Tuesdays With Morrie' 06/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 4:30am]

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