Some of life’s greatest lessons arrive in the most unusual forms, occasionally even on stage. In the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of Tuesdays with Morrie, what once was a relationship between student and teacher becomes a life-changing friendship as the dying professor imparts profound wisdom on his former student.
Chris Shonka, an Omaha native, plays the role of Mitch Albom, a successful sports journalist and Morrie’s former student. Though he has lived in New York, Boulder and Houston, Shonka has returned to Omaha theatre, and he is no stranger to the discipline. Shonka has acted in various roles since high school, including the 1993 OCP show A Few Good Men. He has also received an M.F.A. in acting and a Ph.D. in theatre history. One of Chris’s most recent accomplishments was co-directing a production of The Good Doctor at Creighton University with two guest alumni directors and Bill Hutson, the actor who plays Morrie Schwartz. In the show, Morrie is Mitch’s former sociology professor affected by ALS (also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
In fact, not only do the actors share a stage during the play, but they also share a special bond, similar to that of Mitch and Morrie. As an undergraduate student at Creighton, Shonka was mentored by Hutson, a professor and active member of the theatre department. Shonka majored in theatre at Creighton, starring in several productions and working closely with Hutson. When asked about his relationship with Hutson, Shonka described him as a “terrific” teacher and mentor, one who created “a culture and work ethic related to the arts that naturally extended to everyday life.”
A life-long actor, Hutson first graced the OCP stage in Richard III in 1974 and Shakespeare in Hollywood in 2008. When he is not at OCP, Hutson performs in and directs other shows, travels, reads and inspires students like Shonka through his teaching. When asked about the source(s) of his inspiration, he credits professors both at the University of North Texas and Michigan State but, “In Omaha, I’ll always think of Nancy Duncan as one of the most inspirational people/directors I’ve known. She was my first director at the Playhouse.” These two are inseparable, it seems…from student and teacher to co-directors and cast mates. “I have had a terrific time in rehearsals watching him create this character…”, remarks Shonka.
Come cherish the inspiring story of Tuesdays with Morrie in the Howard Drew Theatre, April 29–May 29, Thursday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults and $21 for students. For groups of 15 or more, adult tickets are $23 and student tickets are $15. To purchase tickets or for more information, call (402) 553-0800, visit the Box Office or click here.
Article by Kristin Winfrey