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Morning's at Seven

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 15, 2021

Alley Mills, Lindsay Crouse, Patty McCormack,
and Alma Cuervo

Photo by Maria Baranova
When the four Gibbs sisters were children, their Papa referred to them like this: "Esty's smartest, Arry's wildest, Ida's slowest, Cora's mildest." More than six decades have passed since they were little girls, but their designated places in the hierarchy of sisterhood have pretty much stuck when we meet them in the revival of Paul Osborne's delightful 1939 domestic comedy Morning's at Seven opening tonight at the Theatre at St. Clement's.

If you've never seen the play, which has been twice revived on Broadway and remains a regional theater mainstay, it is decidedly a charmer. The playwright had a very successful career as the screenwriter for such films as East of Eden, South Pacific, and Sayonara, and this play shows his deftness with plot and dialog. Call it a sitcom if you will, but Morning's at Seven has an air of authenticity even in its more outlandish moments. Because, really, what family does not experience outlandish moments? Or misunderstandings? Or keeps secrets that aren't really secret?

The play takes place in the early 1920s in the backyards of adjacent family homes in the Midwest (beautifully captured in Harry Feiner's set design). One of these is Cora's, whose "mildness" covers up a bundle of long-suppressed aggravation and jealousy. The neighboring home belongs to Ida, whose life is spent fighting to keep things calm within her anxiety-ridden household. Esty lives but a stone's throw away and has to use her "smarts" to cope with a demanding husband who considers her family to be a bunch of morons and "forbids" her to visit them. And Arry, the "wild" one, who has never married and who lives with Cora and her husband, loves to stick her nose in everyone else's business and stir things up.

There is no question that the quartet of women carries the play to its level of warm-hearted veracity. The more time they spend with one another, the better they are able to cope with and overcome the problems foisted upon them, mostly by the men in their lives. As for those men, you could put labels on them as well. Cora's husband Thor is the oblivious one, Esty's husband David is the mean one, Ida's husband Carl is the lost and floundering one, and their son Homer is the preternaturally insecure one. But these are just men, after all, and over the course of the play, the four sisters find their strength through being together. They even make room for one other woman, the ever-patient Myrtle, whom Homer has been dating for 12 years and who is only now meeting his parents and aunts.

One of the reasons that Morning's at Seven has remained a successful play is that it is a magnet for first-rate, well-known actors of a certain age. This production, which is being artfully directed by Dan Wackerman, is no exception, with names you will recognize from their many years of stage, screen, and television performances. The sisters are Lindsay Crouse as Cora; Alma Cuervo as Ida; Patty McCormack, of The Bad Seed fame, just terrific as Esty; and Alley Mills, a last-minute replacement for an injured Judith Ivey, as Arry (she was not yet off script at the performance I attended, but she had her character down pat); with Keri Safran joining them as Myrtle. The men in their lives are Dan Lauria as Thor, Tony Roberts as David, John (Pippin) Rubinstein as Carl, and Jonathan Spivey as Homer. Kudos to them individually and collectively for the gift of their company and for this lovely and thoroughly enjoyable evening of theater.

Morning's at Seven
Through January 9, 2022
Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46 Street, New York, NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: