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Morning's at Seven, the vintage Broadway comedy by Paul Osborn currently enjoying a robust revival at Raleigh Little Theatre, takes its title from "Pippa's Song" by the celebrated English poet Robert Browning (1812-89):
The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearl'd;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven —
All's right with the world!
All is certainly right with the handsome theatrical world created by veteran RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons, scenic designer Roger Bridges, costume designer Vicki Olson, lighting designer Rick Young, sound designer Rick LaBach, and props mistress Betsy Bates. Indeed, the beautifully detailed sets, which includes two-story clapboard facades of two adjacent houses in small-town America, circa 1939, deserve their own special round of applause. And so do the lovely period costumes and the artful lighting of the action.
RLT's stellar cast, whose fine flair for comedy is skillfully nurtured by Fitz-Simons, is topped by Rebecca Johnston, Dennis Rogers, and DeLoris Lowman-Crane. Their crisp characterizations as sixtyish Cora and Theodore "Thor" Swanson and her slightly younger spinster sister, Arronetta "Arry" Gibbs, provide a firm comic foundation for the ensuing events, which mostly involve Cora's determination to remove Arry from her house and finally live alone with Thor — for the first time in their married life.
Tim Wiest is a scream with his sinking "spells" as building contractor Carl Bolton, who is married to Cora and Arry's sister Ida (Linda O'Day Young) but cannot shake the growing conviction that something is wrong — somewhere he jumped the track and has missed the life that he was meant to live. Young hits only one note, but hits it effectively as the grasping mother who shamelessly spoiled her 40-year-old live-at-home son Homer (David Coulter) and, even now, is unwilling to cut the apron strings that keep Homer from marrying his superhumanly patient fiancée of seven years, Myrtle Brown (Morrissa Nagel).
Coulter is amusing as the mama's boy who breaks up with Myrtle but then revolts when Aunt Cora lays claim to the house that his father built for him and his bride, and Nagel is a stitch as a stranger in a strange land who finds the relationships between the four Gibbs sisters — Cora, Arry, Ida, and Esty — peculiar at best.
John Adams and Sharon Pigott are entertaining as David and Esther "Esty" Crampton, a snooty professor who looks down on his moronic in-laws and a long-suffering wife whom David makes chose between him and her family.
Although Morning's at Seven will never be described as a laff riot, it is a pleasant little comedy that rewards the patient viewer with an abundance of chuckles and insights. The current RLT revival is well worth seeing.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Morning's at Seven Wednesday-Saturday, Feb. 11-14 and 18-21, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 15 and 22, at 3 p.m. in RLT's Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $19 Friday-Saturday, $17 Thursday/Sunday, and $13 Wednesday, plus $11 student and senior rate for Sunday matinees and $5 Thursday Night Rush (tickets must be purchased the day of performance). Note 1: All performances are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all performances. Note 2: RLT will provide audio description for those with visual disabilities at the Feb. 15th matinee. 919/821-3111. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/seven.htm [inactive 6/04]. Internet Broadway Database (1939-40 Production): http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=13213.