"I guess a person has to have patience to live through history while they are making it," says the central character of Sylvia Regan's 1940 sentimental drama, Morning Star, now getting a warm, humorous and perfectly lovely production by The Peccadillo Theater Company.
Certainly audiences in 1940 knew they were living though history and about to experience a lot more of it when Morning Star opened in Broadway the evening before France fell to the Nazis. Taking place entirely in the Broome Street home of Russian Jewish immigrant Becky Felderman (Susan Greenhill in a role originated by Molly Picon in her English-speaking acting debut), the play takes us through important events in early 20th Century American history by showing how they directly affect the fortunes of this one household.
Morning Star opens in 1910 with Becky's home crowded with three daughters, a soon-to-be bar mitzvahed son and an unemployed boarder. Esther (Caroline Tamas), the youngest girl, is in love with Harry (Matthew DeCapua), the young man who has been helping Becky study for her naturalization exam, and the two plan to marry as soon as he can get a job teaching. A pacifist, Harry's dream is to write schoolbooks that do not glorify war. They're unaware that Esther's ambitious older sister Sadie (Lena Kaminsky), who introduced Harry to the family, is also in love with him. Meanwhile, middle sister Fanny (Darcy Yellin), an aspiring vaudeville singer, has been dating fledging songwriter Irving (Josh Phillip Weinstein) and lodger Aaron (Steve Sterner), who makes a bedroom out of the Felderman living room has been unsuccessfully courting Becky in between his debates over Marxism with friendly rival Benjamin (Peter J. Coriaty).
As the play progresses through the years, landmark events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and it's resulting affects on the labor movement, the shifting of the entertainment industry from New York to Hollywood, World War I, The Depression and the early rumblings of World War II all make a major impact on daily life.
The author grew up on New York's Lower East Side and the soap opera quality of Morning Star, reminiscent Yiddish theatre, does get a little heavy-handed at times (the heartbroken Sadie says that working in the factory every day alongside Esther would make her feel like jumping out the window), but director Dan Wackerman's fine ensemble cast works through the awkwardness with honesty and warmth, making the play's lack of subtlety endearing. The evening is loaded with vitality, as the characters, in their own small ways, are all active participants in the history that surrounds them. And though the plot is loaded with tragedy, the dialogue is optimistic and often humorous.
Set designer Joseph Spirito appropriately makes few changes in the comfortable Felderman home as the years go by, allowing it to be a familiar constant. Gail Cooper-Hecht's period costumes and wigs do a terrific job in defining the characters, especially when their fortunes change.
Toward the end of the play it's mentioned how the morning star shines brightest after the darkest night. The Peccadillo Theater Company's revival of Morning Star vigorously twinkles.
Photos by Dick Larson: Top: Caroline Tamas and Susan Greenhill
Bottom: Josh Philip Weinstein and Darcy Yellin