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by Margaret Croyden

Estelle Parsons, Piper Laurie and Elizabeth Franz in "Morning's At Seven." (Joan Marcus photo)

Morning's At Seven-- Nostalgia Revived--Yet Again
by Paul Osborn Directed by Dan Sullivan
Lyceum Theater
149 West 45th Street
(212) 239-6200
opened April 21, 2002
Reviewed May 11,2002 by Margaret Croyden

"Morning's At Seven" is what people call a sweet play. And that's the trouble. It's just too sweet--and too ordinary. Written in the late thirties by Paul Osborn, it was the kind of play that went well on matinee days when ladies came to the theater wearing hats and gloves. Right now it is patently out of place. And one wonders what two sophisticated producers like Bernard Gersten and Andre Bishop had in mind when they produced it. They are after all the mainstay of our Lincoln Center Theater and one would think they could come up with something a bit more trenchant than a play that has so little to do with our lives today.

But then I've seen nothing this season that had anything to do with 2002. So many producers seem to want to be in the 1930's or 40's, or 50's--any other time than in the here and now. Maybe it is the 9/11 syndrome--the time to forget, to dream of the so-called good old days, which no doubt were as bad as they are today. But whatever the reason the season is flooded with nostalgia--bad nostalgia: "Oklahoma!," "Sweet Smell of Success," "Private Lives," "The Graduate," "Into the Woods," "The Crucible,"--all revivals, all about the past. One wonders what has brought the theater to this awful state of revivals--some of which were lousy to begin with.

To get back to "Mornings's At Seven." The script is somewhat like a soap opera. It is the story of four sisters. Two live next door to each other. One is married to an eccentric; the other to a nice sort of unidentifiable fellow; the third is what they called in those days "an old maid" and is forced to live in her sister's house, and laments her fate; and the fourth lives nearby with a man who detests her family and even forbids her to visit her family.

The sisters talk about themselves, their husbands, the family secrets, and the town gossip--a typical family, that is. All of which is unsurprising. One of the husbands, the eccentric, is frustrated and disappointed by life and disappears occasionally; another mate turns out to be a tyrant; a third is ineffectual and is dominated by his wife; and then there is the "old maid" sister who must live with her sibling and that, of course, causes trouble because she has a secret (which one can guess immediately what it is), and that causes trouble. Finally there is the nephew, a forty year old who can't quite get himself married to a girl he's been engaged to for years.

And so it goes. In the end, all's well... There are no surprises This is the kind of play about small town people who are harmless, supposedly very American and very boring. It is a relaxing and sleepy evening, and if you nap a bit, it doesn't matter; you can pick up where you left off; you will have missed nothing.

Nevertheless, the performances are first rate. The sisters--Elizabeth Franz, Piper Laurie, Estelle Parsons and Frances Sternhagen are so professional and so adept at playing this kind of thing--no real challenges here--that it is difficult to signal any one of them out. Yes, one does believe that they are sisters; they wear similar gingham house dress, and their hair styles are of their time (unattractive). They are small town people who have their troubles and who end up OK in the end. All of which we have seen one million and a half times.

Not surprising that one cannot find a young person in the audience. What could this play possibly say to them? What could it say to anyone? Life is sweet, life is troublesome, families have their difficulties. People have their problems, especially if they live in small towns. End of story.
O.K. If you want to see four very good actresses in one play, then go. Otherwise... read a good book. [Croyden]

Margaret Croyden's most recent book is a memoir "In the Shadow of the Flame: Three Journeys" (Continuum). A new book "Conversations With Peter Brook" will be published next year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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