Morning's at Seven
A fine cast and expert staging transport us back to a more gracious America
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Dec. 3, 2010
Morning's at Seven
The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 478-5282
Through Dec. 11
Running time: 2 hr., 40 min.
Reading the program notes is one of the wonderful things about seeing a Different Stages production. The company's longtime producing artistic director and devoted theatre
scholar, Norman Blumensaadt, always provides notes that give great insight into the composition of the plays, and the single most stunning fact in the program notes for Paul Osborn's Morning's at Seven is that the play was written in 1939, right at the end of the Great Depression. But you won't find any Dust Bowls here or even a reference to them. What you will find are affairs among family members, husbands leaving their wives, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
But hold on one second. Stated baldly, these facts do the play a disservice, for its ultimate effect is lovely, joyous, and sweet. Four sisters live in three houses. The back porches and yards of two of the houses are represented onstage. In the house on the left lives one of the sisters, Ida; her husband, Carl; and her son, Homer. Two other sisters live in the house on the right: Aaronetta, a spinster who has lived most of her life with her sister, Cora, and Cora's husband, Theodore. Esther, the eldest sister, lives in a house on a hill with her husband, David. David doesn't particularly care for the other sisters or their husbands, and Carl is subject to "spells" during which he wishes he had become a dentist or done something with a mysterious "fork." The play begins with the arrival of Homer, who is finally bringing Myrtle, his fiancée of a dozen years home to meet his family.
This very Middle American story is ably supported by set designer Ann Marie Gordon's twin back stoops, Emily Cavasar's character-appropriate costumes (heavy on the aprons), and sound designer Jeff Miller's period music, but the truly impressive aspect of the production is the cast of actors that director Karen Jambon has enlisted from the community. Bobbie Oliver, Kathleen Lawson, Lana Dieterich, and Jennifer Underwood play the sisters. They make a formidable quartet, with Dieterich as the gentle, loving Ida and Underwood as the peacemaking Esther standing out. That would be a fine enough group for any play, but consider that you also have Richard Craig, who always makes acting look easy (it isn't), and Michael Hankin, who is just plain fun to watch, in supporting roles. That's a half-dozen really fine actors, but among the cast of nine, Anne Hulsman as Myrtle steals the show. Myrtle is all about enjoying life, giving, and caring. Hulsman so believably embodies the loving Myrtle; she takes such joy in each individual moment, even the difficult ones, that it's hard to imagine who could have done the role better. Add director Jambon's expert proscenium staging, and it's about as solid a community theatre effort as you are likely to see.
Besides the accomplished cast and staging, one other wonder: Paul Osborn's script. Was there really a time in this country when even the most outrageous of actions could be looked upon not just with dignity but with grace? When acceptance of individual differences and needs was the rule rather than the exception? Or perhaps the more appropriate question would be: Could there be such a time again?