By Robert Simonson
28 Jul 2002
The acclaimed Lincoln Center Theater revival of Paul Osborn's bittersweet and evergreen comedy, Morning's at Seven, will call it a day on July 28. The show began previews March 28 and opened April 21 to rave reviews. It was to have closed June 16, but soon extended.
Five of the play's nine actors were nominated for 2002 Tony Awards: Elizabeth Franz, Frances Sternhagen, William Biff McGuire, Estelle Parsons and Stephen Tobolowsky. (None of them won the prize.) The cast is rounded out by Buck Henry, Christopher Lloyd, Piper Laurie and Julie Hagerty.
Lloyd, who played the existentially tormented Carl, soon left the show to play Malvolio in the summer Central Park staging of Twelfth Night. He was replaced by Bob Dishy.
Morning's at Seven concerns the doings of four Midwestern sisters (Franz, Laurie, Sternhagen and Parsons) and three of their husbands (Henry, Lloyd and McGuire), all in their golden years, as well as Sternhagen and Lloyd's middle-aged son, Homer (Tobolowsky), and his longtime fiancee (Hagerty). The title is taken from a Robert Browning poem that includes the line, "Morning's at seven/God's in his heaven/All's right with the world."
The 1939 play — as well as Osborn himself — was nearly forgotten by 1978, when director Vivian Matalon staged the work at the Academy Festival Theatre in Lake Forest, IL. Some New York producers saw the mounting and decided to move it to Broadway's Lyceum Theatre, where it became one of the biggest fluke hits in American theatre history. The production was widely praised and ran 564 performances. (The original staging has lasted just 44 performances.)
The 1980 Broadway production featured memorable late-career turns by Lois de Banzie, Gary Merrill ("All About Eve"), Nancy Marchand (The Cocktail Hour), Teresa Wright ("Mrs. Miniver," "Shadow of a Doubt") and Maureen O'Sullivan.
Following the 1980 success, producers and theatre companies raided the neglected oeuvre of Paul Osborn, hoping to find another lost treasure, but nothing matched the performance of Seven. The last major revival of an Osborn play was On Borrowed Time at Circle in The Square. The show featured George C. Scott in his second-to-last New York stage appearance, Nathan Lane as a character representing Death, and Teresa Wright in her final stage role.