Review: Stellar Cast Makes ‘Morning’s At Seven’ Memorable

Peter DeLaurier, Alda Cortese, Janis Dardaris, Marcia Saunders and Carla Belver in “Mornings At Seven” at People’s Light. Photo by Mark Garvin

By Margie Royal

“Morning’s at Seven” by Paul Osbourn was first performed in 1939. Abigail Adams directs People’s Light revival with a veteran cast of players at the top of their game. They make watching this quiet time capsule drama set in a small mid-Western town in 1938 intriguing. It’s the acting that you will leave the theatre impressed by as there is not a weak link in the cast. As audiences, we’ve grown accustomed to fast-paced storytelling, and watching actors play multiple parts. There’s a lot to enjoy in this “old-fashioned” character drama, especially when you have such a stellar cast on stage who bring to life each character in vibrant detail, slowly revealing thoughts, reactions and eccentricities. The plot, such as it is, looks at the intertwined lives of four sisters who live close to each other in a rural town.

Esther Crampton (Carla Belver) is the oldest and most introspective of the sisters. She’s married to David Crampton (Graham Smith), a man who prides himself on his superiority of intellect. Ida Bolton (Alda Cortese) is a simple, clinging woman, married to Carl Bolton (Stephen Novelli), who has “spells” which cause him to question his choices in life. Their middle-aged son, Homer Bolton (Pete Pryor), lives with them, although he has a long-standing girlfriend, Myrtle Brown (Terri Lamm), whom the family has never met. The unmarried sister Aaronetta Gibbs (Janis Dardaris) lives with sister Cora (Marcia Saunders) and Cora’s husband Theodore Swanson (Peter DeLaurier). At the play’s opening, Homer is finally bringing Myrtle home to meet the family.
The actors bring their characters so richly to life that the first act really drew me in and thoroughly held my interest. The play looks at choices made in life. Both David and Carl now feel trapped and as old age approaches, unable to free themselves from the mediocrity of their lives. Although Osbourn gives Esther a bit of depth, for the most part the woman are all shallow, content to gossip and satisfied by having attained a home and husband — which poor Mrytle is so pathetically desperate to achieve. By the second act, the triteness of the woman characters and the plight of the men trapped by them got to be a little too much for me and I was more than ready for the show to end. The play makes an odd swerve to a neatly wrapped up, conventional “happy ending” — which I felt was a bit too manipulated by the playwright.

Marla Jurglanis does a great job with the costumes. The dresses and shoes worn by the ladies and the prim hat Mrytle wears as she comes to visit were spot on. Set Designer Luke Cantarella creates two charmingly detailed exteriors of homes with porches facing a flower and tree filled backyard. Lighting Designer Dennis Parichy lights the action nicely and Sound Designer Christopher Colucci helps anchor this play in the late 1930s by music of the time heard through an old radio on the porch of the Swanson home.

There is a lot to like in “Morning’s At Seven” particularly if you like finely-acted period dramas. I just felt the playwright was quite male chauvanistic in his portrayal of women. Definitely if you go you will have much to talk about as the slow life Osbourne portrays is so very different from the stressful lives of both men and women living in the suburban east in the 21st century.
Performances have been extended and the show is now playing through Feb. 11. People’s Light is at 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355. For tickets, call 610.644.3500 or visit peopleslight.org.

Post-show talkbacks with the cast after the January 18, 25 and February 1 shows.