Earlier this season, Old Academy staged SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, a play set in this deep south with characters facing ugly, confrontational family issues. Paul Osborn’s MORNING’S AT SEVEN is an interesting bookend to that piece. This time, the family drama is set in the mid-west of 1938, and the tone is personal and gentle. Director Loretta Lucy Miller highlights the main theme running through the story: finding one’s own place in the world and within one’s own family. The dramas faced by the Gibbs sisters are very real to them and not unlike the things we encounter in our own lives. No lobotomy crisis here, but who’s going to get the first look at Myrtle, the mystery fiancee? Come lean over the back fence and you’ll find yourself drawn right into the family.
The clever set focuses on the backyards of the two of the sisters, with another sister “over there” (walking distance away). To the left are Thor Swanson (Rich Geller) and wife Cora (Susan Triggiani) and Cora’s sister Aaronetta (Susan Blair). Geller’s Thor is calm and very patient as the sibling chatter swirls around him. He knows the score and is an anchor when the women around him are agitated, a frequent occurrence. As Cora, Triggiani portrays a character who is largely content with her life, when she isn’t irritated by her sister Aaronetta, Aari, a lifelong housemate. Aari is the youngest sister and the most energetic. Blair’s performance is lively and warm, presenting an Aari who both yearns for something more for herself, yet also wants to plant herself firmly in the middle of the sisterhood.
To the right is the Bolton family. Sister Ida (Kimberly Hess) is a devoted homemaker to both her husband Carl (Michael Mogar) and her adult son (Robert Toczek). Hess is so very ‘mom’ as she fusses and worries about her family. Carl gives her plenty to worry about. Mogar plays a Carl who seems to be dealing with a lot of tension. The source is not entirely clear (his son, his struggles with self-actualization, or possibly Alzheimers before we knew what it was). In any event his is a very physical role. In contrast to Carl’s twitchiness, son Homer is a sluggard. Toczek’s delivery is perfect, walking that fine line between “is he a bit slow?” or “is he simply very, very deliberate?”. In a landmark move, Homer has finally decided to bring his fiancee Myrtle Brown (Jennifer Sivers/Roberts) home to meet the family. Considering his twelve year relationship, this is big news for the sisters.
Myrtle could not be more eager to meet the family. She goes out of her way to ingratiate herself, yet Sivers/Roberts is so sweet and sincere that we never doubt that Myrtle truly is delighted to meet them all. Her presence draws out the fourth sister Esther, Esty (Linda Palmarozza), who cannot resist the urge to come check her out despite her husband’s demand that she stay away. Palmarozza is fiesty yet under the thumb of husband David (Lawrence H. Geller). It is satisfying to see her gaining confidence as the action plays out. Like Homer, David is very deliberate in his speech. However, he is a former professor who is enamored with his own intelligence. Geller’s David makes little effort to rein in his condescension and his dry delivery adds a welcome note of sniggering fun. Esty’s new assertiveness also allows David to expose a little more of the human hidden under the academic.
You can be sure you will be a welcome visitor when you come to visit the Gibbs sisters. MORNING’S AT SEVEN runs through June 25th. Old Academy, 3540-44 Indian Queen Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19129. (215) 843-1109.
Although this is the last regular play of the season, the Summer One-Act Bonanza runs for two weekends in July, starting on the 7th. Eight plays will be featured including some original works directed by members and friends of Old Academy.
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