The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

This three-act play is set in a Midwest American town during the 1930’s. The plot centers on the long relationship of four elderly Gibbs sisters and the secrets that remain unspoken in order not to disturb the tranquillity of their family. The younger sisters Cora, Arry, and Ida have lived next door to one another for fifty years. The oldest sister, Esther, who is nearly seventy, lives only one and a half blocks away. However, the sedentary lives of the sisters and their quirky husbands are disrupted when Homer Bolton, son of Ida and Carl, decides to bring home his fiancé of eight years, Myrtle Brown. Homer, who still lives at home, is terrified by sex and commitment. When his mother suggests that Myrtle and Homer share a double bed, he is deeply embarrassed. Homer’s parents and his uncles and aunts are thrilled to finally meet the girl Homer has been dating for twelve years. Myrtle, who is just as naïve as Homer, demonstrates her childlike attitude throughout the play with syrupy comments like, “I’ve just never had so many people so nice to me all at once!”

The backyard setting, with the Bolton and Swanson porches positioned next to each other, functions well in demonstrating how the proximity of the relatives has taken its toll on the psyches of the sisters and the men with whom they share their lives. It is Homer’s return home that initially propels the action of the play. Homer’s father, Carl, who cannot stop thinking about what his life might have been like had he become a dentist, reveals his quiet desperation by leaning his head up against a backyard tree and by wandering for hours through the neighborhood looking for the “fork” in the road he missed years earlier. These “spells” that Carl endures recur throughout the play. Homer reacts to his father’s “spells” by distancing himself from Myrtle Brown and by comforting his mother. Finally, he tells Myrtle that he can no longer...

(The entire section is 787 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Morning’s at Seven is a realistic comedy. The play calls for a typical midwestern 1930’s backyard setting with two houses sitting adjacent to each other and with back porch areas that suggest that privacy may be difficult for the occupants of the homes to find. Through his elderly characters’ initial dialogue, Paul Osborn quickly reveals the everyday ups and downs of two neighboring families who not only are blood related but are able to remain civil to one another after being neighbors for more than forty years.

The wit and humor of the play come from the quirky and oddball characters that Osborn created. Each of the four Gibbs sisters seems to play a distinctive role in the dynamics of the family. Late in the play, Cora recites a poem the girls’ Papa used to say to them: “Esty’s smartest/ Arry’s wildest/ Ida’s slowest/ Cora’s mildest.”

In true dramatic fashion, Osborn slowly begins to reveal the secret desires and stilted dreams of the Gibbs sisters and their husbands. The audience knows that all is not well with the family when Carl Bolton begins to lean his head against a backyard tree, signifying his dissatisfaction with his place in life. The tree continues to function symbolically throughout the play as a reminder of the unmoving life force that cannot be uprooted despite the unsettling questions many of the other characters have about their lives.


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Birdwell, Christine. “Paul Osborn and His Gals of Kalamazoo.” Midwestern Miscellany 13, 1985.

Clurman, Harold. Review in The Nation 244 (May 3, 1980): 540.

Gill, Brendan. “The Theatre: The Age of Innocence.” Review in The New Yorker, April 21, 1980, 77.

Kalem, T. E. “Close Relations.” Review in Time, April 21, 1980, 84.

Kroll, Jack. “The Way We Were.” Review in Newsweek, April 21, 1980, 112.

Weales, Gerald. “Unhappy Families: Mixing Laughter and Cliché.” Commonweal 107 (June 6, 1980): 335-336.