Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Mornings at Seven"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 By Alan W. Petrucelli

Chatham Drama Guild's 'Morning's at Seven' Rates a 10

By Alan W. Petrucelli

Carl Bolton goes through life worrying about his place in life. He sees himself as a failure for not becoming a dentist, and he's prone to spells ... at anytime. At home, in the garden, possibly down on the beach if he ever ventured that far out of the house --- he is, without warning, likely to simply lean his head against the nearest hard object and remain that way without the slight peep.

Ida Bolton goes through life worried about Carl. She also worries about their 40-year-old, never-married son, Homer. Ida has seen a movie about a bachelor, who, by the final reel, kills himself, so she immediately thinks of bachelor Homer. It seems he has been dating a woman named Myrtle for about 12 years, but no one has ever met her. So Ida decides now is the time, and asks Homer and Myrtle to pay a visit.

Theodore Swanson goes through life worrying about the fact that the doctor who gave him an exam could not find anything wrong with him, and not worrying about his colorful language and occasional forays into taking the Lord's name in vain.

Cora Swanson goes through life worried that she and hubby Thor (as people call him) have never lived together --- really lived together --- since her "old maid" of a sister, Aaronette, has always shared their house for the past 50 years. So she decides to ask her brother-in-law Carl if she can rent the house that one day will be Homer's (unless, of course, he saw the same movie and suffers the same fate) and live there with Thor while the kid sis stays behind.

Esther Crampton goes through life worried that her husband, David, is too jealous of her relationship with her sisters. But she lives down the street, and visits anyway.

David Crampton doesn't worry: He plans. Since his wife won't obey him, he has come up with a solution: He will divide their home. He'll live on the first floor, she on the second. He will offer her full kitchen privileges, provided that whenever anyone visits, they are especially quiet going up and down the stairs.

And so we have snatches into the simplicity of "Morning's at Seven," Paul Osborn's warm, patchwork that examines of the lost dreams and tattered lives of four sisters and their spouses. But these are dreams in which loss ultimately doesn't matter and tattered edges acceptable because in the end, love --- of each other, of family --- prevails.

Osborn's "plot" is meager, and is stretched tightly over two acts and three scenes. But what makes the play so delightful --- what has always made the work work --- is that it gives "people of certain age" a chance to strut their stuff. First-time director Jane Hattemer -- who, by the way, makes a superb, well-tuned directorial debut here --- has ensembled a cast of characters who truly seem to know and like each other, and who, when speaking, know how to shade and deliver lines about life and love because they've been there themselves. If the play makes us at all uncomfortable, it's because we often feel like we are eavesdropping on private conversations among friends and family, and not watching characters on a stage. That's a sign of a good play. And great performers.

Space prohibits me from listing everyone, so I'll exercise journalistic liberty and cite the best of the bunch: Jean Bates as Ida Bolton, a master of Margaret Rutherford befuddlement who can elicit hysterics with just an askewed glance, and Mark Rathbun, who in his Chatham Drama Guild debut, make a fine bow-tied, Nervous Nelly Homer.

Hattemer's decision to move the action to Chatham, 1939, was a splendid idea --- the side-by-side well-weathered beachfront houses are comfy and quite realistic; what tarnishes some of the reality is the lack of changes with the text. If you're going to change the locale, then be consistent: When characters refer to "Sycamore Drive' and "Randolph Hill," one is reminded this isn't Chatham; the comment that there "aren't any rivers around here" brings back the play's original Midwestern locale. Minor quibbles, but nonetheless important lessons to learn.

The only act of mourning that should take place is grieving the end of the run. "Morning's at Seven" ends Saturday. It's well worth the trip.

"Morning's at Seven" will be presented Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Chatham Drama Guild. Tickets: $10 adults, $6 children. For reservations, call 945-0510.

"Mornings at Seven" (till 1 April)
Crowell Road, CHATHAM

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