The Manhattan Theater Club world premiere of Morning Sun, written by Tony Award winner Simon Stephens, directed by Drama Desk Award winner Lila Neugebauer, opened last night, Wednesday, November 3, at New York City Center – Stage I ( 131 West 55th Street).
Blair Brown (Copenhagen, “Orange Is the New Black”), Edie Falco (“The Sopranos”, Frankie and Johnny…) and Marin Ireland (Reasons to Be Pretty) form a powerful trio of stars in this deeply felt film, beautifully imagined new play by Tony winner Simon Stephens (Heisenberg, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night). In Greenwich Village about a generation ago, the city is alive. Joni Mitchell sings, friends and lovers come and go, and regulars change at the White Horse Tavern. As 50 years pass, a woman’s life is revealed in all its complexity, mystery and possibility in this thrilling world premiere about mothers and daughters, beginnings and endings in New York City. The direction is Lila Neugebauer (The Waverly Gallery).
Let’s see what the critics had to say…
Jesse Green, New York Times: The fact that these three not-so-great women are played by three excellent theater actors – Blair Brown as Claudette, Edie Falco as Charley, Marin Ireland as Tessa – guarantees that their crises will be clearly brought into focus. Abuse, affairs, alcoholism and abortion each take on a believable twist in Lila Neugebauer’s production for the Manhattan Theater Club. Yet for all the pleasingly detailed work, the room remains stubbornly tiny, as if Stephens, aiming small, is sticking out. Certainly, the effort to value lives without prestige is worthy. The problem comes from trying to dramatize those without incident. It can be done; consider “Waiting for Godot”, a piece on which nothing happens. But “Morning Sun” highlights neither the angst of a meaningless world nor the interpersonal conflicts that make so many fictional homes feel unsafe.
Greg Evans, Deadline: Through it all, Charley, Claudette and Tessa recall and reproduce the everyday and the milestones, the little arguments that turn vicious, the blossoming of new loves and friendships and their inevitable endings, the excitements of youth, the disappointments of middle age and the joys and sorrows that live in our memories. In the end, Morning Sun seems to console us, to remind us that interruptions are what shape our lives, and are the ghosts we will take with us.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: It’s a little early in the season to recycle ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and yet that’s what Simon Stephens did with his new piece, ‘Morning Sun,’ which debuted Wednesday at MTC’s City Center Stage 1 No, the play does not take place over Christmas. And no one in “Morning Sun” can glimpse an alternate reality of their life. But that lovely angel Clarence Odbody, who keeps telling Jimmy Stewart’s distraught George Bailey what’s going to happen next in his life, is very much alive in the roles given to Blair Brown and Marin Ireland in Stephens’ soap opera.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Falco has some emotionally searing moments that left me weak in the knees with admiration for the writing and the performance. It’s a shame, maybe even a tragedy, that neither the playwright nor his director, Lila Neugebauer, could maintain that emotional level throughout this drama about a woman so mundane she doesn’t even rate a name in the credits of the cast.
Adam Feldman, Time Out: What’s Not to Love? Nothing, really, but ultimately there’s not too much meat on that bone. Morning Sun takes its title from Edward Hopper’s painting of the same name: “I like the strange expression on the woman’s face and I wonder…if her face is just a little frozen because she is gone somewhere in her head that she can never talk about,” a character says about it. ) as she nears her own death.(The image of a morning sun also rises twice elsewhere in the room, both times in connection with the loves of Charley’s life.)
Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: It’s a tricky business to reenact the story of your life, or that of your mother or grandmother. And it takes about a good five minutes for Morning Sun to find its groove. But once it’s done, it feels like flipping through a terrifically detailed and colorful photo album. Stephens (Bluebird, Heisenberg, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Tony Award Winner for Best Play) is a top notch storyteller. And Falco, Brown and Ireland are all, as expected, wonderful – they really have a family-like bond; Lila Neugebauer (The Waverly Gallery), who knows how to handle a delicate family history, directs the staging. (You may remember Brown from the 2017 Atlantic production of Stephens’ On the Shore of the Wide World, which also focused on three generations; incidentally, that piece also took its title from a work by art – a poem by Keats – while Morning Sun is taken from, and in one scene vividly describes, the Hopper painting of the same name.)
Frank Scheck, New York Stage Review: Morning Sun by Simon Stephens demonstrates that it is possible for a piece to be both specific and annoyingly generic. The drama about three generations of women, having its world premiere at the Manhattan Theater Club, is filled with references to events, historical figures and places connected to New York City over the past half-century. We hear about Bobby Thomson’s historic home run, the Beatles playing at Shea Stadium, Valerie Solanis shooting Andy Warhol, the demolition of the old Penn Station and the assassination of John Lennon. You will find yourself mentally placing a bet on how long it will be before we hear about 9/11.
Juan A. Ramirez, Theater: “We learn to live with things,” teaches 2, and in most other plays a line like this would land with an obvious thump. But nothing in Stephens’ writing here is sentimental or amateurish, moving gracefully through a small web of lives, not particularly notable, but tenderly and lovingly rendered. It’s a quietly moving piece for which it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment its narrative curtains open to the brilliance suggested by its title, but when it does, you’re glad to have opened the window.