Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Mornings at Seven"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


"Mornings at Seven"

by Paul Osborne
Directed by Eric C. Engle

Scenic Design by Eric Levenson
Lighting Design by John R. Malinowski
Costume Design by Jana Durland Howland
Stage Manager Cathie Regan

Esther................................................Eve Johnson
David.............................................Waldo Fielding
Ida.......................................................Alice Duffy
Carl......................................................Jack Sweet
Cora.....................................................Mary Klug
Thor...............................................Richard Mawe
Arry.................................................Deena Mazur
Homer.............................................Marty Barrett
Myrtle..........................................Judith McIntyre


The first clue to Paul Osborne's odd comedy "Mornings at Seven" is that the back yards of Designer Eric Levenson's narrow houses are separated by a fence, but there is a gap where the lawn of one merges with the lawn of the other; yet people hesitate to cross that gap unless asked. The second is that, though the eldest is 72 and three of them have been married for fifty years, all four ladies in this play are sisters, with secret animosities and affections built on a lifetime of living close to one another. This is a comedy of mid-western manners, played out near the ends of lives as intimately intertwined as that lawn, yet bristling with tense, invisible barriers. It's also funny as hell.

Though they may pretend not to, people in tiny town and close-knit families know a lot about one another's lives, and sometimes speculate about even more. For instance, as the play begins, everyone including the next-door neighbors are eagerly, impatiently waiting for young Homer to bring his girl-friend home to meet his parents Ida and Carl. at 42, having known Myrtle for twelve years and been "going together" for seven, he's still living at home, unmarried and not even exactly engaged. This is a momentous event for everyone!

In the other house, Cora and Thor have spent their married lives with sister Arry as a permanent, spinster house-guest, and you know that can become vexing at times! And then there's Esther, married to David, who drops in easily, and often, from a house just down the block, and wouldn't miss an occasion like this on a bet!

Their conversations are surprisingly straight-forward and direct most of the time, even about their inner feelings. As Arry, for instance, Deena Mazer is incredibly high-strung because she is constantly convinced everyone is secretly discussing her --- discussing anything, for that matter --- behind her back. And she just may have a secret she wants to protect! She's the "wild" sister.

Mary Klug plays Cora, the "mild" one, quiet and fair, enduring rather than complain, though her tongue is sometimes bitten with the effort. Richard Mawe as her husband Thor is the calm, affable, expansive voice of reason --- the nurturer with his watering-can helping flowers grow.

Across that fence, Alice Duffy is the "slow" sister, eager to escape nervous small-talk for the safety of her kitchen, and puzzled, more often than not, by what's going on. Jack Sweet as her husband Carl is given to "spells" of despair at some fork in his past life that made him a carpenter/plumber/handyman and not a dentist. Never has angst been made so funny.

Playing the "intelligent" sister Esther is Eve Johnson, in billows of smartly coifed white hair and with a sly giggle at the way things turn out. Waldo Fielding plays her husband David, an early-retirement college professor who acerbically and autocratically thinks the whole pack of his in-laws "dumb" --- thought as much about his fellow college professors as well.

Marty Barrett plays young Homer --- well, he's 42 and not pushing seventy; say relatively young --- as decidedly undecided. Like most of the conflicts and emotions in this play, his every state of mind or change of mind is uttered flatly, honestly, dogmatically. He doesn't want to move into the house his dad built for him, doesn't want to leave his familiar room, his loving mother, the comfortable life he knows should have changed years before.

Into this strangely inbred maelstrom walks the Myrtle of Judy McIntyre, with a smile so radiant she needs no help from John Malinowski's warmly subtle sunshine lighting. She has never, ever met such nice people in her entire life.

But, if you think these comfortably intertwined lives cannot erupt into argument, vituperation and conflict, just wait till you see what Paul Osborne's script has in store!

There's one special thing about this production that no one in the audience will notice unless it's pointed out: six of these people are members of Actors' Equity Association and three are not. As I said, you will not see any difference, and so, since you really can't tell the players without a score-card, let me point out the non-Equity trio:

Jack Sweet is a big, beefy, bald man who has spent 33 years in Community Theater, and looks and sounds like an apple that has been sweetly simmering in fine wine to achieve such soft, succulent ripeness. Even stock still, staring shocked into space, he is an eloquent actor.

Waldo Fielding is really a gynecologist, but with a Community Theater career nearly as illustrious as Sweet's. His lidded eyes and sneering little mustache could curdle milk at twenty paces, and both he and Jack are married to ladies who have shared their passion for the stage.

Marty Barrett has for years been writing and performing the lost art of live sketch-comedy here in Boston --- he is half of "The Orange Show" for instance. Marty has never looked so tall onstage before, nor less like a beanpole. Perhaps it's the pants that Jana Durland Howland the Costumer has suspendered onto him; or the glasses; or maybe the bisecting part of his Bryll-Creamed hair. In any case, his performance proves he has not only been learning how to be funny, Marty has also been learning how to act.

I'm not saying these "amateurs" are any better than their "professional" colleagues; I'm saying they are not obviously worse --- and there is a genuine ensemble feeling on the Lyric Stage of Boston's playspace.

Again, it may not be obvious, but Director Eric C. Engle has made a deliberate choice about this script. He could have played it as heart-warmingly sentimental; he could have opted for a tensely realistic psychological case-study. He opted for an open-hearted, ludicrous comedy. And, with a character whose response to mid-life terror is to stand with forehead pressed against a tree, this was probably the proper choice of them all. Certainly, as with any excellently-directed show, he makes his cast look as if they were making up the lines as the say them.

Love,
===Anon.


"Mornings at Seven" (till 17 October)
THE LYRIC STAGE COMPANY
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON
1(617)437-7172

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