I like “Morning Sun,” which stars these three amazing actresses Edie Falco, Blair Brown and Marin Ireland, and I also hate it. Maybe that is a metaphorically apt reaction to this latest play by Simon Stephens, who dramatized “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” (which I loved) and penned “Heisenberg” (which I hated), since it’s about the ups and downs of one woman’s life.
Edie Falco plays the woman, who’s named Charlotte “Charley” McBride, and grew up in Greenwich Village (as I did.). Falco’s performance is at its best – extraordinary, searing — at both the beginning and the end of “Morning Sun,” when she’s portraying Charley in old age, soon to die.
In the ninety minutes or so in-between, Stephens’ play travels chronologically through some half century of Charley’s life, with Blair Brown portraying Charley’s mother, and Marin Ireland her daughter. These are working-class women — Charley’s longest-lasting job is as a receptionist at St. Vincent’s Hospital — making the best of ordinary lives
But Brown also sometimes portrays Charley’s uncle, and her childhood friend Casey, and her high school teacher, and her boyfriend Eddy…and sometimes the narrator.
And Ireland sometimes also portrays Charley’s father, and the airline pilot whose one-night stand got Charley pregnant, and her abusive boyfriend of ten years named Brian, and the community activist Jane Jacobs, and a hotel desk clerk named Shakil…and sometimes the narrator.
Brown and Ireland change into these characters without warning, and change right back just as quickly.
The title of the play comes from Edward Hopper’s painting “Morning Sun,” which is mentioned frequently. The painting depicts a woman who looks lonely, or at least lost in thought, in an empty apartment, gazing out the window. And it does sometimes seem in sync with the tone of Stephens’ play, with low-key scenes through the years that are charming, and funny, and touching, and just plain sad.
But there are also scenes that involve going to a Beatles concert and seeing Joni Mitchell in Washington Square Park and that mention Bruce Springsteen, scenes involving historical moments like baseball no-hitters, the demolition of Penn Station, AIDS, and 9/11 — and often at such times, “Morning Sun” feels more in kinship with “Forrest Gump,” a cheaply sentimental tour through Baby Boomer landmarks, triumphs and traumas.
I hate that the set, which is supposed to be Charley’s 11th Street walk up that she inherited from her mother, is so ugly and unwieldy, that the blocking is confusing, the audio is bad, the character shifts seem deliberately hard to follow. It would take an exceptionally committed theatergoer to be unperturbed by any of that; I regret that I can’t be that theatergoer.
But even so, I love that we get a chance to see three such stellar stage actresses in person, and how they embody characters who support one another, and collectively reminisce — when they’re not bickering, picking at old wounds. Maybe the lesson of “Morning Sun” is the same obvious lesson as Charlotte McBride’s life; you make do with what you’ve got.
Manhattan Theater Club through December 19, 2021
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $99 to $109
Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Cast: Blair Brown, Edie Falco and Marin Ireland.
Scenic design by dots, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, sound design by Lee Kinney and Daniel Kluger, music by Daniel Kluger, wig and hair design by Tom Watson