Tuesdays With Morrie - The More Than Human Jazz PianistFriday, May 02, 2008
It was that much more excruciating for me because I had the pleasure of taking Antony Holland's (he plays Morrie to Warren Kimmel's Mitch) portrait, left, last Thursday. Holland was 88 on March 28th. When he faced my camera it was obvious that here was a man who is in full control of all of his faculties including a keen sense of humour and a phenomenal memory. The only flaw I could detect was an extraordinary sweet tooth. He is much younger than his 88 years.
To see Holland's character Morrie (who is suffering the terminally degenerative Lou Gehrig's disease) break down on stage and slowly descend from dancing, to using a walker, to sitting in a wheel chair, to having to use a reclining sofa and then further degenerating into the pallid emaciated old man who is bedridden was a tour the force for me.
This tour de force was equaled by Warren Kimmel's performance as an ambitious, cold, calculating sports writer who somehow by the end of the play breaks down (pushed by his mentor Morrie) and becomes a whole human being. He was so despicable that I even noticed his loathsome light brown Italian shoes. Had I met him on the street with him wearing those shoes I would have instantly disliked him. Such is the power of good acting.
Such is the power of good acting that the play brought to mind a favourite science fiction novel that I had read in the 60s called More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon. Somehow as Mitch broke down mentally while his mentor Morrie broke down physically that combination added to "more than human" and gave this depressing play (I laughed lots in the first act) a cathartic saving grace.
Curiously a play with such complexity of feelings had friend and VLM editor Bob Mercer and I wondering if Warren Kimmel was really playing that wonderful jazz piano. Mercer who probably told both his younger brothers that Santa Claus did not exist thought the piano playing was a recording. I was convinced that Kimmel's considerable acting abilities included playing a damn good jazz piano. So we asked an usher who told us, "I really was not here during the first 15 minutes (a patent lie) so I don't know. Kimmel is talented so he certainly could have been playing it." I was not satisfied so while waiting back stage to talk to Holland I asked the stage manager who answered, "I really cannot tell you as I have not noticed if he plays the piano. It is possible."
So I warned Holland how the two previous persons had been ambiguous in answering my question. I asked, "Does Kimmel really play that piano?" Holland looked at me directly (and in character, or was it out of character? I could not make up my mind.) and he told me.