If we don't necessarily go to the theater to enforce the aesthetic values of the present upon the past, we tend to mentally superimpose changes on a play when it doesn't develop enough in the second act. This process continues unabated the moment Morning's at Seven's intermission ends. When Homer begins a speech to long-suffering Myrtle, "I've got to tell you [something] before we go . . . It's not very nice," you hope he'll continue with "I'm queer" or "I've got Negro in me" or "Once I slept with a Jewess" — anything to shock the play back to life.
Whenever we watch a modern antique that is filled with zany, slapstick or madcap families, we can confidently assume the playwright was desperately tapping out a coded tale of deep dysfunction that the times wouldn't allow him or her to faithfully portray. But a stage artifact can't stand on its own very long — you can only raise the curtain on a beautiful set once and get applause. By Act 2 an audience begins to want more than more of the same, which, here, means people who are irritated with one another but not really threatened by any external menace. If, in the little world created by Paul Osborn, the Depression is a twister that so safely whirls beyond the corn fields and down the turnpike that it is never mentioned, then the emotional weather of his Middle American characters is an even more distant phenomenon, to be left to other writers to explore.
MORNING'S AT SEVEN | By PAUL OSBORN | At the AHMANSON THEATER, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown | Through January 26