By: Isa Goldberg
November 21, 2021: Reviving “Morning’s At Seven”, Paul Osborn’s old chestnut of a comedy, is the stuff we reserve for Olympians, such as this impressive cast from The Peccadillo Theater Company. While it is rife with clichés about family life and maturing, Dan Wackerman’s revival highlights the contemporary nature of these dysfunctional families as well as their sexual values. In a certain sense, these Midwestern folks are more contemporary than we would imagine of people in the 1920s, the period in which the play is set.
Here we meet four sisters, their spouses and off spring. Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”) plays the allegedly philandering husband, as though he were a man of stability and purpose. Lauria’s Thor maintains an easy, relaxed presence in spite of the ongoing rivalry between his wife Cora (Lindsay Crouse) and her spinster sister Arry (Alley Mills).
As his wife, Lindsay Crouse gives us a prissy woman. Soured, overlooked and scornful, Cora is just bittersweet. While it seems she’s never lived outside or beyond her immediate neighborhood, she’s willing to get messy if that’s what it takes to get a life. It’s this crisply delivered, sure fire and righteous sense of self that makes Crouse’s Cora a force of nature – a silent storm. This revival marks Crouse’s welcome return to the New York stage.
As Cora’s rival and her total opposite, Mills’ Arry is totally adorable. “Wonder Years” fans will remember her as Norma Arnold, the wife of Dan Lauria’s character in the popular television series. Seeing the two of them together with all of their shared histories certainly suggests conspiracy.
Patty McCormack, in the role of the dotty sister Esty, is delightful and dainty. While far from the pig-tailed moppet star she portrayed in the 50’s, McCormack remains a sprightly, fierce presence. We notice the glint of wisdom in her eyes. In contrast, Tony Roberts portrays her deadhead husband, a pompous college professor, still in search of the road less taken. Characteristically, their home is off the fork, apart from the others. Roberts struts the boards once again, now bellowing with self-importance…as if he could need it.
Still, in the hands of John Rubinstein tree-hugging Carl is the funniest character. His existential quest, arriving so late in life and so intensely, ups the ante on comedy. While Carl, like the others, believes he’s never fulfilled his potential, the stick built houses we see on stage are outstanding examples of his accomplishment. Rubinstein, too, a man of many diverse disciplines and talents is a surprisingly endearing comedic actor.
Carl’s wife Ida, played by Alma Cuervo, multitasks considerably – bending to her husband’s bizarre behavior, while twisting and turning to sever her son’s grip from her apron strings. She’s a large bundle. Cuervo, best known for her roles in musicals such as, “On Your Feet” and “Cabaret”, among many others finds the warmth and verve in this large-as-life character. Jonathan Spivey brings a superb sense of physical comedy to her nebbish of a son. As his fiancée Myrtle, Keri Safran is wimpy and slightly manipulative. She beats the stereotype of a woman who knows how to bait her man. Together they make for an outstandingly quirky couple.
Barbara A. Bell’s costumes provide understated character elements. Their perfect Victorian homes, designed by Harry Feiner, come painted in soft colors. Lighting designer, James E. Lawlor III illuminates myriad skies.
First produced on Broadway in 1939, Osborn’s characters remain fresh and truthful. It may seem like an anomaly, but watching these characters in their quotidian conversations on the porches of their neighboring family homes brings a welcome ease, a breeze from the past.
Morning’s At Seven
Theatre at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street in New York through January 9, 2022. Masks must be worn in the building and proof of vaccination and photo ID must be shown at the door. For tickets: MorningsAt7.com. Photography: Maria Baranova