Also see Kevin's review of Two Trains Running
What defines a classic play? It has been said that a play age 50 years or older can be counted as a classic. Memorable material and text is also a requirement. November 30th of this year marks the 65th anniversary of Morning’s at Seven, when it opened on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. To coincide with anniversaries, the Caldwell Theatre Company opens its 30th season with this composition. Even with the Caldwell’s dependable stable of actors, to call Morning‘s at Seven a classic is debatable at best.
Written by Paul Osborn, the story takes place in two adjoining backyards in the 1930s. The nucleus of the play focuses on the Gibbs sisters: Aaronetta (Arie), Esther (Este), Ida, and Cora. Ida, Cora, and Este are married while Arie lives with Cora and her husband Theodore, or “Thor” for short. That trio lives in one house while Ida and her husband Carl live next door. Down the road, Este and her estranged husband David are living in the same house, but in two separate rooms. All are awaiting the arrival of Ida and Carl’s son, Homer, and his fiancée, Myrtle.
Osborn tackles different topics within Morning’s at Seven, including Carl and Homer’s hereditary mood swings, Homer’s nervousness to commit, and sibling rivalry between Arie and Cora. This brings us back to the nucleus of the play: sisterhood. The Gibbs sisters grew up together, so it seems only right that they spend the rest of their lives together. Disagreeing in a subtle way is David, who resigns by giving Este, the bottom floor while he sleeps on the top.
Morning’s at Seven has comic timing, but the conflict is seriously lacking. And without conflict, there is no drama. Osborn hints at it: Cora resents Arie because of her relationship with Thor; she wants to move with Thor to another place, so Arie can keep the house to herself. Arie, being scared, emotionally blackmails Thor into staying put, opening a wound that isn’t revealed until the third act. When the climax hits, Osborn wraps the play up in an ending that is just too pat for words.
Caldwell’s co-founder Michael Hall leads his reliable players through Osborn’s neatly packaged but dubious script. With something like this, it is nice to know that Hall has a stable of actors who can bring out the best in somewhat of an uncertainty. Pat Nesbit (Cora) stands out first. Her believability comes out in her appearance and her stance. Through Nesbit, Cora is played as a nice but determined woman who wants to get out from under her glamorous sister’s shadow and live the rest of her days with her husband - alone! Nesbit instills a sense of devotion in Cora - devotion to her family and devotion to keeping her husband by her side.
Cary Anne Spear is solid in her performance as Este, the sardonic peacemaker of the family, even though she is on the outs with her own nucleus. Advisor to few, counselor to many, Este comforts Carl, who is going through an identity crisis - the same affliction that is striking his own son, Homer. And even though Este is not married to Carl, she can relate. Spear makes the most of her role, giving off humorous vibes in a bland situation comedy.
Then there is Arland Russell as Carl. Russell shines when Carl is confused about life and its mishaps. His delivery is on point and shows off his range. Other standouts include Dennis Creaghan as Thor, Cora’s beleaguered husband, and Ronald H. Siebert’s portrayal of Este’s dandy of a husband, David.
The downsides come with other characters. Carl J. Danielsen makes the most of his time as Homer. Homer is seen as almost catatonic in his emotions, so Danielsen is stuck in a secondary character with no where to go. Margery Lowe (Myrtle, Homer’s fiance) is also stuck in one dimension. Her Myrtle has one emotion - glee. Lowe is almost too glib at times, shrilling some of her dialogue. When Myrtle finds out that the couple is not moving into the house that they wanted, she just stays optimistic. At least, let it hurt a little!
Jacqueline Knapp’s Ida is just as beleaguered as her husband, Carl. That doesn’t make a good combination. Knapp tries to rise above it, even instilling a sense of anger in Ida’s voice. When Carl says he’s moving in with David, Este’s husband, Ida finally gets upset, then she is sad again. Knapp tries to make the most out of her circumstances, giving Ida a sense of dignity. But thanks to Osborn’s text, we see no identity.
Angie Radosh is indeed glamorous as Arie, too glam in fact. A bachelorette, but far from a spinster, Arie is whiny fussbudget to all of her sisters, trying to butt into their personal lives. She’s like a 400-pound gorilla living in Cora and Thor’s house by making her sister’s life uncomfortable while proving a crutch for Thor to lean on. Radosh does not look like an old maid trying to hold onto another person’s husband. She looks like a vamp who could easily take Thor away with just one snap of a pinkie. There is no contest.
The Caldwell boasts a strong resident design team who knows how to keep things in perspective. Tim Bennett’s set is beautiful, having taken a page out of old Americana. The adjoining backyards look like anyone could sit outside with a glass of cool lemonade and stay there all day. Thomas Salzman’s lighting sets us at ease, blending in well with the scenery while Susan Stowell stays on point with the wardrobe factor. She keeps us in period, defining a time when long skirts and nice blouses were very relevant and men were just as formal in their suits and ties. This design team is one aspect of Caldwell’s longevity: no matter the play, good or bad, the design staff will always give a good interpretation of the production at hand.
Paul Osborn is more known for his screenplays: classic movies such as The Yearling, East of Eden, and Sayonara. Morning’s at Seven may be dubbed a great American classic by many, but to me, it is still undecided. Disappointed by the Caldwell’s choice to open their 30th season, I hope they will gain momentum with the next production.
Morning’s at Seven concludes December 19th at the Caldwell Theatre, 7873 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. For tickets, please call (561) 241-7380 or visit their website at www.caldwelltheatre.com.
CALDWELL THEATRE COMPANY - Morning’s at Seven
Cast: Dennis Creaghan, Pat Nesbit, Angie Radosh, Jacqueline Knapp,
Scenic Design: Tim Bennett
Directed by Michael Hall
See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.
-- Kevin Johnson