By Stanford Friedman
Life expectancy statistics suggest that to be in your late 60’s in the year 1922 is to be at death’s door. Well, the family of early rising elders who populate the charming period piece, Morning’s At Seven, are having none of that. They may have more than their fair share of problems, but kicking off doesn’t enter the picture. In fact, the first joke of the chuckle-filled night has a senior thinking he must have a lousy doctor because nothing could be found wrong with him. Rather than mortality, this Paul Osborn comedy, which is no spring chicken itself, having premiered on Broadway in 1939, deals with marital woes, real estate and roads not taken; the stuff of midlife crises. Which is to say that the playwright was on the cusp of 40 when he wrote it.
Under the confident direction of Dan Wackerman, a veteran cast of nine keeps the play humming and ensures the likability of each of its characters. First, there is Thor, who in no way resembles the Marvel superhero. In this case, Thor is short for Theodore and played with low-key grace by the charismatic Dan Lauria, wielding not a hammer, put a pipe filled with aromatic tobacco and a high tolerance for the women who complicate his life. There is his wife of many decades, Cora (Lindsay Crouse). And there is Cora’s maiden sister Arry (Alley Mills) who has lived with Cora and Thor for nearly the entire length of their marriage.
Right next door, Ida (Alma Cuervo) another of Cora’s sisters, copes with her nervous husband Carl (John Rubenstein) and their problematic mother’s boy of a son, Homer (Johathan Spivey) who, after 12 years of courtship is finally engaged to Myrtle (Keri Safran). And just up the road, Cora’s third sister, Esther (Patty McCormack) is torn between spending time with her siblings and obeying her snobbish husband David (Tony Roberts) who wants nothing to do with his plain in-laws. “You know, of course, without my telling you, how much you all depress me?” David informs them with Roberts playing it impeccably, hilariously dry.
Action is defined by inaction not only for Esther but for nearly all of these folk. In one way or another they are trapped in place. Cora longs to be alone with her hubby in a new house, but her sisterly obligation to Arry has held her back. Arry, both smart and attractive, has resisted marriage for lack of a proper mate, summing up the male gender as, “pretty poor specimens on the whole.”
As for the men, Thor is happy not to upset the status quo, while David and John are coldy content to leave their spouses if it means escape from their stuck existences. Of all the celebrity casting that Morning’s has seen over its several revivals, Rubenstein wins the award for most ironic. Having originated the title role in Pippin at age 25, he finds himself at age 74 portraying yet another man desperately searching for his purpose in life, though here he’s more focused on dentistry than battling Visigoths.
Spivey is quite funny in his milquetoast turn as Homer, exhibiting some of his father’s habits while generally unable to pull himself away from a mother’s love, despite Myrtle’s best efforts. Safran is appropriately squeaky and fragile as Myrtle but the role is so thinly written that she all but blows away when Homer leaves her outside.
Though the play is set in Cora’s and Ida’s adjoining backyards, Harry Feiner’s scenic design finds the stage dominated by their two large twin homes, and that is completely appropriate. The looming, often empty houses are a constant reminder that home might be where the heart is, but the soul sometimes has other ideas.
Morning’s At Seven – By Paul Osborn; directed by Dan Wackerman.
WITH: Lindsay Crouse (Cora), Alma Cuervo (Ida), Alley Mills (Arry), Dan Lauria (Thor), Patty McCormack (Esther), Tony Roberts (David), John Rubinstein (Carl), Keri Safran (Myrtle), and Jonathan Spivey (Homer).
Scenic design by Harry Feiner; costume design by Barbara A. Bell; lighting design by James E. Lawlor III; and sound design by Quentin Chiappetta. Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St., MorningsAt7.com, (212) 239-6200. Through January 9. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes. Masks and proof of vaccination required.