Review: Formidable Acting Trio Buoy 'Morning Sun'

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 10, 2021

Edie Falco and Marin Ireland in "Morning Sun"
Edie Falco and Marin Ireland in "Morning Sun"  

Emmy-winner Edie Falco ("The Sopranos") is no stranger to the stage, having made her debut in Warren Leight's "Sideman" at CSC in 1998 (the production moved to Broadway). She was last seen on Broadway in her Tony-nominated performance as Bunny in the revival of John Guare's "House of Blue Leaves" in 2011, and off-Broadway in The New Group's "The True" in 2018.

Blair Brown has an extensive TV, film, and stage career going back to the 1975 New York Shakespeare Festival production of "The Comedy of Errors." In 2000 she won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in Michael Frayn's "Copenhagen." Her eclectic film work includes "Altered States," "Continental Divide," and "Dogville." 

Neil LaBute's "Reasons to Be Pretty" brought Marin Ireland a Theatre World Award, as well as a Tony nomination, for her Broadway debut in 2009. Her many theatre credits include "After Miss Julie" on Broadway and The New Group revival of "A Lie of the Mind." She, also, has many TV and film credits.

This trio of formidable women come together to bring to life Simon Stephens' ambitious new play "Morning Sun," directed with grace and balance by Lila Neugebauer ("The Waverly Gallery") for the Manhattan Theater Club. 

An alternate title of the play could have been, "an unremarkable life," punctuation deliberate — certainly if the main character's mother had anything to say about it. 

It's interesting to see a play about women, directed by women, with a largely female design team, written by a man (and a Brit, to boot). But this Brit wrote the Broadway beasts "Heisenberg" and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," as well as one of the most powerful and underrated plays of the last two decades, "Punk Rock," so if we can trust that anyone could crawl into the headspace of women and welcome collaboration from the women around him it would be Stephens.

The play covers a lifespan and centers on Charlotte (Falco), who hates her name and likes to be called Charley. Born in Greenwich Village, she loves Joni Mitchell and doesn't get along with her overly critical mother (Brown). She accidentally becomes a single parent, to her daughter Tess (Ireland). The script only refers to each character as 1, 2 and 3, FYI. Each actor portrays all the friends and lovers who enter and exit the rather mundane life of this fairly average person's world, and the actors must keep up with years flying by and the many comings and goings. 

The result is a curiosity — certainly an exceptionally acted work (did we expect less?), as each actor has a scene or two where they are allowed to truly shine: Falco in a brilliant final monologue; Brown when playing one of Charley's suitors; and Ireland throughout, even in a quiet moment where she did not break character and gently asked an audience member (and surrounding neighbors if help was needed) to silence a noisy cell phone while we patiently waited. It felt like a part of the proceedings where most of the rules were being broken anyway (in an acceptable manner). 

And there is a wonderfully realized scene in which Casey (Ireland), a good friend of Charley's, reveals that she must break off all ties with her because she believes Charley made a terrible mistake giving birth to her child — that it isn't "fair to bring a baby into this world without a family." It's a searing and judgmental moment, one that signals the end of a friendship, and yet it's so honest because rarely in life do we get to experience such a thing. Usually, the confrontation never happens. We are never gifted with the reasons for rifts. People avoid conflict the way they avoid black mold. Here, at least, Charley gets her reason. And whether Casey has been brainwashed by her boyfriend or it's her true feelings speaking doesn't matter as much as the fact that she's irreparably destroyed the friendship. 

Alas, the chief problem with the play — and it is with the play itself, not with the acting or the directing — is that in wanting to portray an ordinary life, and in giving us mostly minutiae along with some highlights of that life, we are left with a less than extraordinary drama. There isn't enough tension, or even comedic elements, to allow for a production worthy enough of the talented women that embody the characters. I wasn't able to emotionally invest in Charley's journey. In a way, it felt almost condescending. Here are a group of artists with, arguably, extraordinary lives, trying to tell an audience about an unremarkable one. 

It was nice to be back to inside a theater after 19 months (even with the necessity of a mask — not fun for someone who wears glasses). I just wish the play made some lasting impression beyond that one confrontation scene. 


"Morning Sun" is currently playing at the Manhattan Theater Club at New York City Center (131 West 55th Street). www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute