CAMERON KELSALL: You can tell a lot about Morning Sun by its set. Simon Stephens’ world-premiere play, the first Off-Broadway offering from Manhattan Theatre Club since the pandemic began, bills itself as a love letter to Greenwich Village and to three generations of tough-as-nails New York women who overcome personal flaws and societal pressure to live unique lives. Yet the scenic design, credited to the collective dots, more closely resembles a nondescript Midwestern church basement: fraying wall-to-wall carpet, a few folding chairs shoved in a corner, an upright piano (adorned with plastic plants) that nobody seems to play. The visual component lacks vibrancy and specificity, and Stephens’ elliptical script, with dialogue that falls somewhere between direct-address and jumbled second-person memories, fails to compensate. Despite the service of three accomplished stage actors—Edie Falco, Blair Brown and Marin Ireland—Morning Sun often feels as occluded and distancing as the austere, featureless set on which it’s performed.
DAVID FOX: I’m with you on all of this, Cameron—including what I sense is your implied frustration because there’s a lot here that I really want to like. The premise intrigued me from the start. Morning Sun immerses us in the connected lives of three matrilineal generations of women. They are in many ways ordinary working-class characters, New Yorkers only because the action begins long enough ago that it was possible for the not-rich to live in Manhattan. These characters—and peripheral others, including husbands and friends—are embodied by three actors who are listed in the program and script simply as 1, 2, and 3. Stephens’ play is often jumpy and disjointed, realistic in some ways and abstract/metaphoric in others (as you say, very much like the set)—though to its credit, the stories are ultimately cohesive and quite moving. But he employs my unfavorite technique of having the actors serve as both narrators and characters, which from the start compromises Morning Sun‘s effectiveness. And that’s not my only issue. I found the writing verbose, mawkish, and manipulative, and the artifice so glaring as to undercut the show’s many virtues, including two sensational performances…
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Categories: Criticism, New York, PARTERRE BOX, Theater
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