In the youth-fixated world of entertainment, "Morning's at Seven," populated mostly with characters in their late 60s and early 70s, is a rarity.
For its production of the 1939 Paul Osborn play, Theatre West has put together an estimable cast of stage and screen veterans, most notably Betty Garrett, whose resume includes the movie gems "My Sister Eileen" and "On the Town" and the television perennials "All in the Family" and "Laverne & Shirley." The director, Mark Travis, is no slouch, either. He's been in charge of such well-regarded stage productions as "Time Flies When You're Alive" and "A Bronx Tale." Yet despite the experience involved, this presentation is slack, awkward and, at times, just plain wrongheaded.
This modest story eavesdrops on four sisters who live either next door or just a few houses away from one another. Now and again, minor crises emerge, but for the most part, the action consists of unexceptional but emotionally true little moments.
The show works best, as it did in the Broadway revival that visited the Ahmanson in 2002, when the performers convey the characters' sheer ordinariness and let the eccentricities simply bubble to the surface. Theatre West's production, though, mostly plays to the eccentricities.
Among the handful to get things right is Garrett, a Theatre West co-founder, in her portrayal of Cora, whose calm demeanor momentarily gives way to anxious activity when she spies an opportunity to rectify the three's-a-crowd situation that resulted years before when her youngest sister (Dianne Travis) moved in with Cora and her husband (Donald Moss).
Also fine is Malachi Throne as a brother-in-law whose courtly politeness is really a pointed act of condescension toward the family. Quite nice too is Seemah Wilder's performance as Ida, a gentle, nurturing soul who's being driven to wit's end by the respective am-I-on-the-right-track? crises experienced by her husband (Marvin Kaplan) and 40-year-old son (Abbott Alexander).
Alexander, on the other hand, exemplifies what's wrong. As lost-in-a-fog Homer, he stares, wide-eyed, into space and speaks in a pinched whine. He's a mere collection of tics, not a living, breathing human being.
Layla Galloway and Jeanine Anderson complete the cast. Pay close attention, and you may get the gist of this mild little parable about aging, about family, about regrets and about each morning's fresh opportunity to try again. Theatre West doesn't make it easy, though.
`Morning's at Seven'
Where: Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Ends: June 17
Price: $20 and $25
Contact: (323) 851-7977 or www.theatrewest.org
Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes