A sold-out performance welcomed Kansas City Actors Theatre’s 15th season opener, “Morning’s at Seven,” a 1930s comedy about four sisters as they examine their past and present lives with hopes to find better alternatives.
“Morning’s at Seven,” by Paul Osborn has amassed a storied path to its current success. The original Broadway opening lasted briefly, but later revivals captured more attention, more awards, and established legs to travel to many regional productions with dignity, charm, beautifully written characters, and a theme that “we’re all in this–alone.”
Even though a comedy, the theme of isolation looms over four sisters who live their entire lives in close proximity and with a sense of family unity through adversity. All in their sixties, Cora, Aaronetta, Ida, and Esther, know their pasts, know the choices they made, face the reality of their current situation, and live life on a day to
day basis with little dreams of changes. Add to that the three different husbands, a nephew bound by his mother’s apron strings, and the nephew’s fiancé. The ensemble of actors keep the tone light, even in the darker moments of the play and nuance to characters.
While the strength of the play comes from the unity of the four sisters, the husbands add the conflict. Theodore lives in a love triangle, torn between two sisters. Carl lives a life of regret causing him to question choices made when younger and long to return to the “fork” and choose a road not taken. Husband number three, David, detests his current situation, isolates himself through his delusion that no one equals his intelligence. Further, Homer, a 39-year old bachelor finds himself unprepared to make choices he may regret after living among his aunts and uncles, knowing their situations. Innocent and alone, only Myrtle sees a possible brighter future for herself and longs for change.
The play contains a charming and realistic story line with creative characters ripe for interpretation from Kansas City’s best actors. Each individual character allows for nuances that this divine cast can exploit to capture the audience’s attention. The remarkable play contains no villain, no evil plot, no disaster, yet deals with individual obstacles while keeping the tone light, eliciting laughs along the way.
The problem faced by a reviewer is to find the strengths or weaknesses for future viewers. But, with this play and cast, none exist. The cast is fantastic. The story works. The set, the lights, the sound, the set decoration–all weave a fine tapestry. Probably the most noticeable aspect of the production is the 1930s costumes created by Sarah M. Oliver. The female characters all wore typical house-dresses and boxy shoes reminiscent of the era. Another but subtle addition is the music composed by Jon Robertson. His composition gives the play a Midwest, blue-grasssy texture. The music helps set the tone.
Every character faces personal challenges, yet none allow those to affect their present. That helps keep the spirit of the piece light and moving forward. If not for the strength of the four central characters, the play could become melodramatic. However, the performances of the ensemble cast keep the story lively and moving forward. While the play is not slapstick in any way, the timing of opening and closing doors remains precise. Dennis Hennessey’s skill for directing comedy comes through with this piece and his cast. “Morning’s at Seven” contains the entertainment elements to continue to attract sold out performances. The cast list, alone, guarantees strong attendance. With the development staff assembled, Hennessey delivers a stunning opening to KCAT’s new season.
The cast is: Gary Neal Johnson as Theodore Swanson, Deb Bluford as Cora Swanson, Merle Moores as Aaronetta Gibbs, Jeannine Hutchings as Ida Bolton, Victor Raider-Wexler as Carl Bolton, Gregg Butell as Homer Bolton, Krista Eyler as Myrtle Brown, Peggy Friesen as Esther Crampton, Mark Robbins as David Crampton.
The Artistic staff and crew were led by Dennis D. Hennessey director. Members of his team are: Kyle Dyck, technical director; Rachel Dyer, stage manager; Shawnna Journigan, properties manager; Gary Mosby, scenic design; Katie McBee, assistant stage manager; Sarah M. Oliver, costume design; John Rensenhouse, production manager; Jon Robertson, composer and sound design; Shane Rowse, lighting design; Paige Stallings, wardrobe mistress.
“Morning’s at Seven” continues through June 8 on City Stage on the Theatre level of historic Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. Dates, times, ticketing, and prices can be found at the KCAT website. Season tickets for their 15 season can also be purchased through the website. Season 15: “Mornings at Seven,” “A Doll’s House,” “‘Master Harold’…and the Boys,” and “‘night, Mother.”
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