Morning’s at Seven fits the definition of “quaint.” With its elderly characters and its winsome setting – a Midwestern town in the 1930s, where everybody knows each other’s problems a little too well – Paul Osborn’s genial 1939 comedy is practically a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.
But look closer at those houses onstage at People’s Light. The paint is scratched and peeling, worn from decades of neglect. Sure, the houses are nice to look at, but they’ve seen better days. The same might be said for the people living inside those houses, who are chafing at decades of constraint, starting to wonder if there’s more to life than what they’ve been settling for all these years. They’re starting to wonder if they deserve more.
Morning’s at Seven has plenty of laughs, but in director Abigail Adams’ enchanting production, it’s the quiet moments that resonate the most. And it’s the balance between comedy and heartbreak that makes this production work so well.
Osborn’s play follows the lives of four sisters, all now in their sixties or seventies. The house on the left is the home of sister Cora and her husband Theodore (Marcia Saunders and Peter DeLaurier), plus her sister Aaronetta (Janis Dardaris), who moved in “temporarily” four decades ago and never left. The house on the right is the home of sister Ida and her husband Carl (Alda Cortese and Stephen Novelli), plus their 40-year-old son Homer (Pete Pryor).
Homer has been dating a woman for twelve years – and engaged to her for seven – yet nobody in his family has ever met her. (“Well, Homer’s shy,” says his uncle Theodore. “He can’t be rushed into anything.”) Now Homer has finally brought his fiancée Myrtle (Teri Lamm) – you just knew there’d be a character named Myrtle in a show like this, didn’t you? – home to meet everybody.
And then there’s sister Esther (Carla Belver), who lives down the street with her husband David (Graham Smith), an arrogant academic who considers his wife’s family “morons.” She’s weary of her husband’s condescension and obstinacy. Meanwhile, Cora is tired of having to house Aaronetta, Carl is mourning his lost chances, and Homer is torn between his obligations to his mother and his fiancée. And so on. They’re all teeming with insecurities and quirks and complaints – yet the more they complain, the more charming they seem to get.
The ensemble cast works together beautifully, though on opening night a few of the actors had a hard time keeping the characters’ names straight. Dardaris and Saunders are the standouts, bitterly opposed to each other yet both wholly sympathetic. Belver and Cortese score too, as women trying hard to cope with the change all around them. DeLaurier, Novelli and Smith add nice touches, although their characters have less depth than the women.
The biggest laughs come from Pryor and Lamm as the young – well, younger – couple. Pryor is dripping with anxiety as the gutless Homer, while Lamm bubbles with nervous energy in her fumbled, insincere protestations of happiness. Her kooky vitality provides just the right contrast to the more sedate figures surrounding her.
Luke Cantarella’s finely detailed set design, Christopher Colucci’s sound design (with snippets of popular songs of the era) and Marla Jurglanis’ vintage-style costumes set the right nostalgic atmosphere, while Dennis Parichy’s lighting gives everything the proper rosy glow.
There’s nothing flashy about Adams’ production; its gentle tone wins you over as much as the funny lines. It’s utterly delightful.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including an intermission.