The four stars of "Morning's at Seven" lined up for a picture, one in front of the next, an array of women with time on their faces and gray in their hair. Elizabeth Wilson laughed. "She doesn't know why I'm so cooperatively holding my hand like this," she said, gesturing at Kate Reid next to her. "It's so my ring will be in the picture."
She displayed a big green ring to great oohs and aahs from the others. She wouldn't tell where she got it.
"Morning's at Seven" is about four sisters, all of them over 60. The women who play them are four actresses with more credits among them than there are bubbles in champagne, and a like amount of temperament might be expected to accompany such vintage. Instead they have become a crew of sisters-in-greasepaint, developing over the two years they have performed the show a contemporary mirror to the zany band onstage.
The play was a surprise hit--producers said, "Who wants to see a play about old people 40 years after its original Broadway opening?"--and won awards in 1980 for playwright Paul Osborn and for Wilson, Teresa Wright and Maureen O'Sullivan. Reid joined the cast a few months ago, replacing Nancy Marchand.
The tour started shakily in Boston, and went on to Chicago and Los Angeles. "We never have a big advance, but if we stay long enough it always catches on," Wilson said. The rigors of the road are outweighed by the pleasure of the parts--four good, meaty roles for older women.
At lunch the other day it was clear the four were different types: O'Sullivan, 65, nursing a broken hand, seemed a little grander than the others. Wright, 64, is softly pretty and bright. Wilson, 56, is the older sister type: The others asked her for advice on where to stay and the best way to get to the theater, and she had the answers. Reid, 51, professed to be hopelessly disoriented and said she had locked herself in her hotel room by mistake.
Reid: How much would the Jefferson Hotel be?
Wright: About $100 a day.
Reid: And how much do we pay at this place?
Wright: Not a $100 a day.
O'Sullivan: Well, if we're paying $85 I'm for moving.
Reid: I slept on the couch last night. Actually it was very comfortable. But I've got a black-and-white TV, which distresses me.
Wright: You must have a color too, you didn't look.
Reid: I looked.
Wright: I don't believe it.
Q: Do you watch much TV?
Reid: I'm an addict.
Wilson (In shocked tones): I didn't know that, Kate.
Wilson recalled a time when she nearly locked herself out of a theater. "Once when I was playing at Lincoln Center I went through the wrong door. I ended up on the street with the door closed behind me. We were doing 'The Good Woman of Setzuan,' and I had this crazy Chinese costume on, and my only impulse--I hated the show so much--was to run. But I didn't. I just banged on the door until someone heard me."
Reid turned to O'Sullivan and tried to tell her something in confidential tones.
Reid: Oh, I got a postcard from my ex-husband.
Of course, instantly, everyone was all ears.
Reid: Never mind. She paused, unsure about whether to tell the story or not. He said "I've finally got a job." The postcard is a picture of a man, pulling a horse and cart. (Silence.) That's one of my best stories. Very amusing.
O'Sullivan: You're not telling the whole thing.
Reid: No, I'm not.
Wright: Try again.
O'Sullivan: I don't find it very amusing at this point. Won't you tell us more?
It is suggested that perhaps Reid is shy.
Reid: No, what Kate is, is dumb, not shy. I'm not going to go on with it.
The play may be about "old people" but many of the most earnest fans have been younger. It seems to appeal, the actresses said, to a sense of family that is too often lost today. "It's almost as though they're relieved that this sort of play exists, that people are still talking about it," said Wilson.
"It is so well written, Osborn's ear remembers so well the talk of a family relationship," added Wright. "The kind of kooky things, not the things you'd expect a family to talk about, but the things families really talk about. Kind of crazy. If any of us listened to our conversations at home and taped it, we'd sound completely crazy."
"Oh God, my children and I would be in an institution, no question," said Reid.
She took out a cigarette. "Lizzie, I'm going to do it." She lit it.
Wilson sighed: "Oh, all right." Wilson was once arrested for smoking backstage during a performance. "He said he was going to take me to jail. The stage manager persuaded him to at least let me finish the performance." She no longer smokes.
They are all looking forward to playing parts where they are not required to wear wigs, as they must in "Morning's At Seven." "People come backstage and say, 'Oh you look so much younger,' "said Wilson.
"People tell me, 'You look so much better without the makeup,' " said Reid. "I don't wear makeup. It's very ego-building."
O'Sullivan said the ensemble feeling among the sisters was the product of good casting, "chemistry." Wright said they were helped by the trial summer-theater production, where they were thrown into each other's company offstage as well as on. But, she added, the play was written so that even if they did not know each other at all the sense of family would be there.
"But," she added, "we really are sisters now."