On Friday evening, my parents, my middle brother, and Joshua and I went to Theatre In The Round to see its current production of Paul Osborn’s 1939 play, “Morning’s At Seven”. (The play’s title is borrowed from Robert Browning, and does not reflect a grammatical error.)
The play is a tale of four aging sisters, in their sixties and seventies, who live in a small town in the American Midwest. The year is 1938.
One sister is married and childless; she and her husband have a permanent live-in guest, her unmarried sister, who after decades of living under their roof is beginning to get on their nerves.
Another sister lives next door. She, too, is married, and is the only sister with offspring: she has a forty-year-old son who has proven himself reluctant to let loose his mother’s apron strings. The son has been engaged for a dozen years to a woman from the same town—and yet he has never brought her home to meet his family.
Another sister lives across town. She has “married up”, and her husband views her family members as “morons” and discourages her from visiting them (not that that stops her).
The play takes place over a single weekend. Two events set the plot into motion: the first sister announces that she wants to move into a new house and leave the existing house to her unmarried sister; and the son of the second sister announces that at last he is going to bring his intended home to meet the family, a move preliminary to their wedding, shortly to occur.
And, for the next two hours and forty-five minutes, the characters mull over and discuss these events, which are supposed to be dramatic as well as humorous.
“Morning’s At Seven” opened on Broadway in 1939 and—with an all-star cast—promptly bombed. In the pre-television era, during which New Yorkers attended the theater several nights a week, “Morning’s At Seven” closed after a one-month run.
The play was not to be revived until 1980, when it received a second Broadway production, again with an all-star cast—and became an unexpected hit, running for sixteen months and spawning national tours.
A third Broadway production was mounted in 2002, once again with an all-star cast. The 2002 Broadway production lasted only three months.
I am clueless why anyone would consider “Morning’s At Seven” worthy of revival. The play has no merit as drama, the play has no merit as comedy: it is jaw-droppingly earnest, and jaw-droppingly bad, as if Henrik Ibsen had supplied the comedy and George S. Kaufman the drama.
The Theatre In The Round production did the material no favors (other than provide work for area actors “of a certain age”). However, I am not convinced that any cast could bring such a feeble script to life—and, in any case, I believe the play to be pointless.
Osborn is remembered, to the extent he is remembered at all, for adapting existing material into screenplays. Osborn worked in Hollywood for decades.
Osborn lived to see the successful 1980 revival of his 1939 play.
I wonder what went through Osborn’s mind as he watched his failed play from four decades earlier transformed into a surprising commercial hit.
Osborn HAD to have known, in 1980, that his 1939 play was a piece of wood-rot.
Somewhat pressed for time, we ate a quick dinner at a pub only steps away from the theater. The pub has a very limited menu, and we had been advised to go for the walleye, served with Minnesota wild rice and asparagus.
The walleye was excellent. We were pleased.