BWW Review: MORNINGS AT SEVEN at Kansas City Actors Theatre
For audiences feeling the need for a pleasant, two-hour sojourn into a gentler time, Paul Osborn's 1939 comedy of manners "Mornings at Seven" at Kansas City Actors Theatre inside Union Station will fill their collective nostalgia void. Dennis D. Hennessy's KCAT production is blessed with nine excellent actors of appropriate age to bring this stylish 1939 play-script to life.
"Mornings at Seven" recounts the lives of four sisters on the lee side of their dotage and that of their extended families. Three of the four Gibbs sisters share a back yard while residing in two, nearly identical, small town, Midwestern houses.
The houses were built by Karl (Victor Raider-Wexler), husband to sister Ida (Jeannine Hutchings) and father to forty-year old son Homer. In 2019 parlance, Homer (Greg Butell) has either "failed to launch" or has found an excuse not to. Homer is about to bring his thirty-nine year old fiancé Myrtle (Krista Eyler) of twelve years home to meet the family. Karl is a little odd. He is prone to "spells" of various sorts that have given Homer an excuse and perceived need to remain in his boyhood bedroom. Myrtle accepts Homers trapped status until she discovers what twelve years of fiancé-hood is likely to bring.
Across the yard in the matching house lives Cora (Deb Bluford) and her husband, Thor (Gary Neal Johnson) with Cora's maiden sister Aaronetta (Merle Moores). A block away is the home of the fourth sister Ester (Peggy Friesen) and her retired, professorial, intellectual husband David (Mark Robbins).
Anyone who has ever lived in a small town will recognize these characters. In an age that predates Twitter, these families are archetypes that circulate in a constant ethos of rumors, secrets, and semi-secrets and who spend their energy tittering about their neighbors and extended families. The fear is that somehow sharing a secret of any kind will subject the family to a kind of scarlet letter forever. The truth is that a secret exposed lives in the small town rumor mill is retold forever.
Near the start of the show two of the sisters and Thor peer out the back fence gate and spy neighbors driving down the avenue headed in a direction that can only lead them to supper and a movie. Absurd? Not so much. That was a real small town thing! People memorize license plates to keep track of their neighbors. Men and women gossip. The men surrounded a pot-bellied stove on the premises of a downtown merchant. The women hung out, drank coffee, and played cards in an individual likely home.
Playwright Paul Osborn's clever dialog and the skill of the actors make us smile in the face of what could be the persistent demons that everyone eventually faces. The humor holds up. Old age looms like a specter for all these characters. What have the past three score years really been all about? Could the sisters and their families have lived more meaningful existences?
All these people face the same existential questions, but from their own points of view. Cora feels like the third wheel in her marriage to Thor. Arronetta feels her life slipping away and is desperate not to die alone. Karl is a contractor who thinks he should have been a professional. David is a professional surrounded by people he is certain are not as smart as he is. Esther endures David's demons and wisely manages the perceived challenges of her sisters. Cora somehow recalls Edith Bunker. She is persistently nice and goes with the flow. Homer and Myrtle are trapped in their lives and in their feeling for each other.
Director Dennis D. Hennessy has stitched this production together in a most satisfying way. It has been said that 80 percent of a production success lies in good casting. These folks work well together. They display the timing and experience to deliver the gentler laugh lines in a way that makes the audience smile. The praise includes teammates like Gary Mosby who designed the sets that successfully recall a time gone and like Sarah Oliver whose costumes evoke time and place.
KCAT's production of Paul Osborn's "Mornings at Seven" continues at the City Stage on the lower level of Union Station through June 9. Tickets are available online at www.kcactors.org or by telephone at 816.235-6222.
Photos courtesy of Kansas City Actors Theatre and Brian Paulette.