Theater review by Elysa Gardner
It could be argued that Morning’s at Seven’s enduring charm lies as much in the actors who have appeared in Paul Osborn’s account of four aging, deeply attached sisters as in the play itself. The first Broadway revival, in 1980, made a star of David Rounds, who shared the stage with Nancy Marchand, Maureen O’Sullivan, Elizabeth Wilson and Teresa Wright; the second, in 2002, featured celebrated performances by Elizabeth Franz, Estelle Parsons and Frances Sternhagen. For this latest Off Broadway production, director Dan Wackerman has assembled his own posse of stage and screen veterans.
The redoubtable Judith Ivey was to be among them, until an eleventh-hour injury forced her to bow out, as Arry Gibbs, the youngest and only unmarried sibling, who lives with her sister Cora and Cora’s husband, Thor, in a house next to the one where Ida, another sister, resides with her own spouse, Carl, and their middle-aged son, Homer. The fourth and eldest sister, Esty, lives nearby in their small town, but has been forbidden to visit by her husband, David, a smug ex-professor who considers his in-laws a bunch of morons. But nothing can keep Esty away when it’s announced that Homer—a reclusive nerd who has inherited Carl’s crippling lack of confidence—is due to finally bring home Myrtle, the mystery woman he has purportedly been dating for some time.
Myrtle’s arrival proves a catalyst for reflection and confrontation among the senior relatives. While all are entering their golden years—certainly by the standards of 1922, when the play is set—contentment has eluded most of them. Arry, played by Alley Mills (still carrying a script at a recent preview, with impressive dexterity), has a secret involving Thor, who is given a nicely dry spin by Mills’s former Wonder Years co-star Dan Lauria. Deemed the wildest of the sisters by their father, Arry delivers some of the comedy’s most poignant lines, underscoring the particular loneliness suffered by women in her position. Wackerman and his colleagues don’t shy away from the play’s deceptively quaint surfaces: Harry Feiner’s set and James E. Lawlor III’s lighting create a vision of cozy pastels to summon the place and time. The performances are in sync, from Alma Cuervo’s toasty take on the well-meaning but smothering Ida to Lindsay Crouse’s sometimes breathless but grounded Cora.
Notably, though, Esty—the smartest of the Gibbs sisters, according to their dad—is also the most independent, and plainly the happiest in her own skin. As played by a lively Patricia McCormack, she’s a welcome foil to David, who is ultimately buffoonish in his snobbery, as Tony Roberts’s deadpan performance makes clear. John Rubinstein brings both appealing goofiness and nuanced pathos to Carl, whose recurring minor breakdowns (or “spells,” as the others call them) underline the existential searching that is the character’s true legacy to his son. And Jonathan Spivey’s Homer, the role that earned Rounds fame, is a standout, blossoming with witty vigor from an awkward man-child into a fellow ready to take charge of his fate, to the delight of Myrtle, whose nervousness and simpleness are relayed rather too relentlessly by a high-pitched Keri Safran. Still, you’ll leave the theater rooting for Morning’s at Seven’s youngest couple, and tickled and moved by their elders.
Morning’s at Seven. Theatre at St. Clement’s (Off Broadway). By Paul Osborn. Directed by Dan Wackerman. Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes. One intermission.