'Seven' Looks Back Sweetly at Bygone Era

Paul Osborn's "Morning's at Seven," first produced in 1939 and now at Theatre 40, is a warmly eccentric view of small-town family life that examines, inadvertently or not, the limited role of women in pre-feminist America. Damned if they do and damned if they don't, the play's married women are bedeviled by their husbands' demands and idiosyncrasies, while the unmarried bemoan their "spinster" status and lack of a "real home."

It's a sociologically fascinating portrait of a bygone time--and a mind-boggling reminder of just how quickly societal conditions can change. If you can ease past the stereotypes, however, you'll find yourself awash in the nostalgia of Stephen Tobolowsky's sweet, unpretentious staging, a lovingly rendered microcosm in which war and social unrest have not yet cast their shadows on the halcyon horizon.

Located in the company's temporary space, directly across the street from the regular venue, Victoria Profitt's detailed set--a communal backyard between two simple frame houses--evokes a Norman Rockwell-esque Americana, while Debra Garcia-Lockwood's dappled lighting, filtering through the leaves of an onstage tree, bespeaks an autumnal serenity.

The action revolves around four elderly sisters, all of whom live near one another and are suffering various crises in their lives. The actors, with the exception of a couple of whippersnappers in their mere middle years, look as if they qualified for AARP membership some time ago. All the performers, both elderly and not so, are splendid. It's a rare treat to see such a bumper crop of mature actors in lead roles of such complexity and depth--and this cast makes the most of its opportunities.


* "Morning's at Seven," Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 22. $15-$18. (323) 936-5842. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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