Off Broadway Reviews
Ms. Falco, thank goodness, is exclusively Charley McBride, a safe harbor among the ever-shifting dramatis personae around her. The product of her mother Claudette (Brown) and her loving but barely sketched out father Harold, Charley is rebellious in the conventional ways that kids in '60s and '70s plays are: She hangs out with her best friend, smokes weed, is smart but doesn't apply herself, becomes a receptionist at St. Vincent's just as AIDS is beginning to ravage the city, and, in another well-worn theatrical convention, has a one-night stand with an airline pilot that leaves her pregnant. On her way to an abortion at NYU Hospital, she beholds the brilliant morning sun shimmering up Seventh Avenue and decides, I'm having this child.
Thus the title, or one iteration of it. Morning Sun is also an Edward Hopper paintingEdward Hopper, of Nyack, Claudette's hometown, which appears to have some added significance I can't figure outthat hangs in a museum where Charley becomes smitten with Brian, a guard. Brian spends the next 10 years with her and becomes a kind of surrogate father to her daughter, Tessaengaging and loving one moment, surly and unreliable the next. How do we learn all of this? Through voluminous exposition, as Charley remains Charley but unburdens her cares to a panoply of supporting characters, with Brown and Ireland trying on new identities and genders at such a furious pace that it's hard to keep up. Plus which, under Lila Neugebauer's hazy direction, they don't vary their personas a great deal.
Much of it is taking place in the landscape of the mind, so there's no need for an elaborate set. But couldn't dots (that's the scenic design credit, dots) have come up with something more arresting than the random array of benches, chairs, table, floor lamp, beige carpet, and a far-left spinet that gets toyed with for 10 seconds and then is forgotten? Kaye Voyce's costumes are right about 30 percent of the time, depending on who's playing what at the moment, and Lap Chi Chu's lighting shows off some interesting effects, to what dramatic purpose it's not always clear.
The identities do start clearing up about three-quarters of the way in, and the various plights of the McBrides, while basically prosaic, acquire something of a momentum. Falco has a final monologue, a medley of verities the dying Charley wants to communicate to her loved ones after communicative powers have failed her, that may leave you teary. Some modestly intriguing leitmotifs pop up: alcohol (Charley drinks too much), men who get weepy, Joni Mitchell, how women of a certain age become invisible, and characters repeatedly wondering, "am I safe?." And some diverting New York references, if you've lived here over the past 50 years: Van Leeuwen's, Peter McManus, the White Horse, etc.
No disrespect to Ms. Brown or Ms. Ireland in saying that Falco leaves the largest impression. But, then, she has the most to play, while the other two are too busy doffing and reasserting new identities to sculpt finished portraits. And Stephens's dialogue, when not repetitive or expository, tends to be, like dots's set, beige. I'm so glad to be back at MTC Stage 1 enjoying these three capable performers, watching them try to pump some excitement into what is, in the end, a muted piece, curiously devoid of emotion. But let's hope that its next offeringJoshua Harmon's Prayer for the French Republic, directed by David Cromerpossesses a little more bite.