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'Tuesdays with Morrie' isn't as moving as it should be

Part of being human is to wonder what it means to be human. We long for meaning; we seek it everywhere, and sometimes we find it in the most improbable places.

By all accounts, Morrie Schwartz knew all this. Schwartz, a beloved sociology professor at Brandeis who died in 1995 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spent his last months reflecting on his life and his death. He did this with friends, with family, with his own thoughts on paper and on tape, and with many former students. And one of those students, Mitch Albom, wrote a best-selling book about his time with Morrie and what he thought it meant.

That book, ''Tuesdays with Morrie," is now a play, which Albom wrote with Jeffrey Hatcher. It came from Miami to Boston's Colonial Theatre last night, at the start of its national tour. Toward the end of the 90-minute performance, there were sniffles and sobs; many audience members leapt to their feet to applaud. Clearly, they found meaning here, and that's great. But that reaction says more about their longing than about what the play actually delivered.

No question, the Morrie who appears onstage is a wonderful creature: funny, sharp, caring, and wise. Harold Gould, familiar from many film and television roles (distinguished gangster, witty con man, Rhoda's dad), makes the most of Morrie's strong mind and failing body; without hamming, he makes us believe in his character's declining strength and his inner fortitude. And he delivers Morrie's many aphorisms with impeccable grace and comic rhythm: ''I am dying, Mitch, and I can live with that."

But Mitch -- the character for sure, and who knows about the author -- is a problem. He's a jerk, and yet we're supposed to like him, to share his laments at the busyness of life, to see the world as he does until Morrie wises us up. Albom the author tries to make this all work by making it clear that Mitch knows he's a jerk, and Dominic Fumusa does what he can with the role, but Olivier himself couldn't turn this self-absorbed prophet of selflessness into a sympathetic protagonist.

And both actors and audience were insulted and annoyed last night by some truly atrocious sound problems: crackling, rustling, and several echoing booms that sounded as if someone had dropped a microphone from 10 feet up. The design team -- Michael Anania for sets, Ellis Tillman for costumes, and Brian D. Nason for lights -- did thoughtful and professional work, as did the actors and the director. But none of that mattered when the microphones drowned out Morrie and Mitch. And the canned sound of it only reinforced a depressing sense that, as meaningful as Morrie's life clearly was, Mitch is still too busy manufacturing a product out of it to understand what it was really all about.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at

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