Play’s look at family togetherness will make you smile

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 10, 2002

It’s charming. It’s funny. It’s very popular. And it’s on stage at the Albert Lea Civic Theatre.

It’s the Albert Lea Community Theatre production of &uot;Morning’s At Seven,&uot; the Paul Osborn comedy, which opened Thursday. The production is directed by Julianna Skluzacek, who has assembled a wonderful team of actors. All but two of the roles call for mature actors, and she’s got the cream of the crop here.

At the center of &uot;Morning’s at Seven&uot; are the long-standing sibling rivalries of four aging sisters. Three of them &045; Ida (played by Joanne Barr), Cora (played by Lilah Aas) and Arry (played by Nancy Hockenberry) have lived only across their shared backyards for over 50 years. The fourth, Esther (Joan Muschler), lives just a few blocks away.

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The audience quickly learns that living so close to one another has taken its toll on the characters. In addition, the mostly quiet life these women share with their husbands becomes unhinged when several of them begin to question what to do with their remaining years. Paul Cooper as Thor, Jim Drummond of Grand Rapids, Mich., as Carl, and Daniel Freeman of Northfield as David perform the roles of the husbands.

Tensions mount further when Ida’s 40-year-old son Homer (Mike Compton) brings home his fiancee of 12 years, Myrtle (Karen Behling). (He only brings her home because his mother saw a movie where something tragic happened to a man who chose to remain a bachelor.) He wants to claim the house that has been promised him, but his Aunt Cora has other ideas. She only wants to be alone with her husband, but since Arry has lived with them for most of their married life, it hasn’t happened. (When it comes down to it, all a woman really wants is her own home.) The comedy builds as secrets and plots are revealed.

Compton is outstanding as the overly shy (or is he?) Homer. He’s obviously never rushed into anything in his life, and never spent a night away from home. His gestures are much like Barney Fife or even Gomer Pyle, and it really works here. And Behling is full of surprises as Myrtle, who appears to be extremely shy on the surface and jabbers to mask her nervousness.

To single out any one of the sisters’ or husbands’ performances would not be right because they are so comfortable in their roles. They all need the others to come into being, which is only right since they have lived practically on top of each other for decades with all the ease and irritation that such closeness creates. This cast has over 350 plays of experience.

But it doesn’t stop them from questioning what they want to do with their lives. Take Carl, who keeps asking, &uot;Where Am I? I have to go back to the fork.&uot; These moments are what his family calls &uot;spells.&uot; Or Thor, who agrees that Arry belongs with him and Cora, no matter how strange that seems. Or David, who tries to keep his wife, Esther, away from her sisters and their husbands because he thinks they’re all morons and plans to live apart from his wife if he catches her visiting her relatives again. &uot;I have a good time with my sisters,&uot; Esther says. &uot;I don’t care

how ignorant they are.&uot;

It’s as Skluzacek says, &uot;Every family has its own secrets hidden and its own rivalries, but when push comes to shove, they all love each other.&uot;

By the end of the play, there is hope for a return to simpler times when, as the poet Robert Browning wrote, “The year’s at spring and day’s at the morn. Morning’s at seven… God’s in his heaven… and all’s right with the world.”

The play, which originally opened in 1939, is wonderful because its comic dialogue doesn’t insist on being funny and is all the funnier for it. Over the years, &uot;Morning’s At Seven&uot; has undergone numerous revivals. The current revival in New York has been nominated for nine Tony awards.

The set, by Patrick Rasmussen, is the shared backyards of Ida and Carl and Cora and Thor, is, as Myrtle proclaims, &uot;simply heavenly.&uot;

The play runs two hours and 20 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

The play runs tonight and Saturday and May 15-18 at the Albert Lea Civic Theatre. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are now on sale for the production. Box office hours are 3:30-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Saturdays of performances. Call 377-4371 to order tickets.