POSTED ON JANUARY 2, 2013:
Two Things for the Heart
A play that warms it and an art show from it
It's hard to find a more seasoned veteran of Tulsa theatre than Tom Berenson. Whether you know it or not, you've likely seen at least something he's done, and the man has worked with damn near every theatre company in town.
Next week, he rejoins Theatre Tulsa in the titular role for the troupe's production of Tuesdays with Morrie. The very popular book by sports columnist Mitch Albom has inspired many people since it was published in 1997. Since then, it has been a TV movie with Hank Azaria, begun making regular appearances in high school literature classes, and is now a heartwarming play.
With Berenson as the ALS-stricken former professor, TT's version of this show should be a really fantastic one. He will act opposite relative newcomer Freddie Tate, fresh off his role as Cupid in The Eight: Reindeer Monologues.
The big difference here is that Tate has to interact with Berenson, whereas in the monologue show, his only interaction with anyone came backstage. And that's a different experience.
"It's tougher," he said of returning to dialogue. "And I haven't done a leading role since National Pastime. I did Moby Dick! The Musical and Jesus Christ Superstar, but I didn't know how to act."
Tate, obviously, is that rare actor who isn't 100 percent certain he's the greatest ever to tread the boards, and that's refreshing.
"I wasn't looking for a starring role," he said. "But in this, I'm carrying the show."
The show itself recounts the 14 Tuesdays during which Albom met with his former professor prior to the instructor's death. It's the kind of story where people learn stuff.
"It's a short play, but my character grows minute by minute by minute," Tate said. "To show that growth is challenging. I don't have wardrobe changes, and I don't get to have makeup lines to show that I'm aging. I just have to rely on me. But it's fun."
He's having fun with his own casting, as well, as sportswriter Albom is white, and Tate is not.
"It's weird. It's a true story, but he's not very black," Tate said. "But they cast me anyway."
And he's glad they did. He sings Berenson's praises without much prompting.
"Tom and I are a lot alike in our feelings about doing theatre and why we do it and where that need comes from and stuff," Tate said. "I have such a great time with Tom. And thank God, it's so natural to act with him."
Often, as Tate pointed out later, actors aren't very giving onstage. But according to Tate, that is certainly not the case with Berenson.
"The more he gives, the more I give. It's a great back and forth. I don't know how else to explain it," he said. "A lot of times, you work with people who are like, 'I'm So-And-So, and I'm onstage and you do your thing and I'll do mine.' But Tom is like, 'I'm going to help you out in this scene by doing this or that.' It's just a great interaction between all of us."
This interaction runs for one weekend only, Jan. 10-13 in the Liddy Doenges Theater downstairs in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Shows are at 8pm except for a 2pm Sunday matinee, and tickets are available through tulsapac.com.
Landscapes from the Heart, presented by Janice Wright
Also at the PAC in January -- in the PAC gallery outside the Chapman Music Hall -- is an exhibition entitled Landscapes from the Heart, and it showcases new works from Janice Wright, a painter of what she calls "contemporary landscapes."
Wright attempts, in her art, to show that randomness and chaos may appear to rule the natural world, but that in fact, there is nothing random or chaotic about how nature plots its course.
Her work is rhythmic to look at, and at times is simultaneously primitive and sophisticated. It's really fascinating stuff.
Landscapes from the Heart will be on display through the month of January in the PAC gallery weekdays from 10am to 5:30pm and during Chapman Music Hall events.
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