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Review Roundup: MORNING SUN at Manhattan Theatre Club


Simon Stephens' play stars Edie Falco, Blair Brown and Marin Ireland.

Morning Sun

Manhattan Theatre Club's world premiere of Morning Sun, written by Tony Award winner Simon Stephens, directed by Drama Desk Award winner Lila Neugebauer, opened just last night, Wednesday November 3, at New York City Center - Stage I (131 West 55th Street).

Blair Brown (Copenhagen, "Orange Is the New Black"), Edie Falco ("The Sopranos," Frankie and Johnny...), and Marin Ireland (Reasons to Be Pretty) form a powerhouse trio of stars in this deeply felt, gorgeously imagined new play by Tony winner Simon Stephens (Heisenberg, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). In Greenwich Village a generation or so ago, the city is alive. Joni Mitchell sings, friends and lovers come and go, and the regulars change at the White Horse Tavern. As 50 years pass, one woman's life is revealed in all its complexity, mystery and possibility in this enthralling world premiere about mothers and daughters, beginnings and endings in New York City. Directing is Lila Neugebauer (The Waverly Gallery).

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Jesse Green, New York Times: That these three not-so-tall women are played by three excellent stage actors - Blair Brown as Claudette, Edie Falco as Charley, Marin Ireland as Tessa - ensures that their crises come into clear focus. Abuse, affairs, alcoholism and abortion each get a believable turn in Lila Neugebauer's staging for Manhattan Theater Club. Yet for all the enjoyably detailed work, the play remains stubbornly tiny, as if Stephens, aiming small, overshot. Certainly the effort to valorize unglamorous lives is worthy. The problem comes from trying to dramatize uneventful ones. It can be done; consider "Waiting for Godot," a play about nothing happening. But "Morning Sun" highlights neither the existential angst of a meaningless world nor the interpersonal conflicts that make so many fictional homes feel dangerous.

Greg Evans, Deadline: Through it all, Charley, Claudette and Tessa recall and re-enact the quotidian and the milestones, the petty arguments that turn vicious, the blossoming of new loves and friendships and their inevitable ends, the excitements of youth, the disappointments of middle age and the joys and sadnesses that live on in our memories. In the end, Morning Sun seems to be consoling us, reminding us that the interruptions are what forms our lives, and are the ghosts we'll carry with us.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: It's a little early in the season to be recycling "It's a Wonderful Life," and yet that's what Simon Stephens has done with his new play, "Morning Sun," which opened Wednesday at MTC's City Center Stage 1. No, the play is not set at Christmas. And nobody in "Morning Sun" gets to glimpse an alternative reality of his or her life. But that lovely angel Clarence Odbody, who keeps telling Jimmy Stewart's distraught George Bailey what's going to happen next in his life, is very much alive in the roles assigned to Blair Brown and Marin Ireland in Stephens' soap opera of a play.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Falco has some emotionally searing moments that left me weak in the knees with admiration for both the writing and the performance. It's a pity, maybe even a tragedy, that neither the playwright nor his director, Lila Neugebauer, could sustain that emotional level throughout this drama about a woman so unexceptional that she doesn't even rate a name in the cast credits.

Adam Feldman, Time Out: What's not to like? Nothing, really, but ultimately there's not too much meat on this bone. Morning Sun takes its title from-among other things-Edward Hopper's painting of the same name: "I like the strange expression on the woman's face and wondering...if her face is just kind of frozen because she's gone to somewhere in her head that she can't ever talk about," says one character about it. The play aims to unpack that kind of unspoken inner monologue-in this case, the sequence of memories that flood back to a woman named Charley (Falco) as she nears her own death. (The image of a morning sun also rises twice elsewhere in the play, both times in connection to the loves of Charley's life.)

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: It's a tricky business, replaying your life story-or your mom's, or your grandma's. And it takes a good five minutes or so for Morning Sun to find its rhythm. But once it does, it feels like flipping through a terrifically detailed, and colorfully narrated, photo album. Stephens (Bluebird, Heisenberg, the Tony-winning Best Play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) is a first-rate storyteller. And Falco, Brown, and Ireland are all, as expected, wonderful-they really do have a family-style connection; Lila Neugebauer (The Waverly Gallery), who knows how to handle a delicate familial story, directs. (You might remember Brown from the 2017 Atlantic production of Stephens' On the Shore of the Wide World, which also focused on three generations; incidentally, that play also took its title from a work of art-a Keats poem-while Morning Sun is drawn from, and in one scene vividly describes, the Hopper painting of the same name.)

Frank Scheck, New York Stage Review: Simon Stephens' Morning Sun demonstrates that it's possible for a play to be annoyingly specific and generic at the same time. The drama about three generations of women, receiving its world premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club, is filled with references to events, historical figures and locations relating to New York City over the last half-century. We hear about Bobby Thomson's epochal home run, the Beatles playing Shea Stadium, Valerie Solanis shooting Andy Warhol, the demolition of the old Penn Station, and the assassination of John Lennon. You'll find yourself mentally placing a bet as to how long it will be before we hear about 9/11.

Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely: "We learn to live with things," teaches 2 and, in most other plays, a line like this would land with a stumbling, obvious thud. But nothing about Stephens' writing here is sentimental or amateurish, moving gracefully through a small web of lives, not particularly remarkable, but tenderly and lovingly rendered. This is a quietly moving play for which it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment its narrative curtains open to the brilliance its title suggests, but when it does, you are happy to have opened the window.

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