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Mary Armstong and Ray Mahoney share cosmic philosophy in this scene from the Actors Theatre Playhouse production of Paul Osborn's classic comedy "Morning's At Seven."

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“Morning’s At Seven” is Paul Osborn’s treasured comedy classic set in a small Midwestern town in the 1920s. This American delight tells the story of the four Gibbs sisters, all of whom live within a “stone’s throw” of each other. Now in their late 60s, the sisters and their husbands find themselves at a dramatic “fork in the road.” Both hilarious and deeply touching, “Morning’s At Seven” lays bare the inner workings of the American family in all its messy, embarrassing, and ridiculous grandeur.

“Morning’s At Seven” is playing for nine performances Thursday, Fridays and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. through June 25, at Actors Theatre Playhouse in West Chesterfield, N.H. Tickets are available only online at the Actors Theatre Playhouse website, atplayhouse.org. All tickets are $15. Visit the website for reservations.

I had often heard of the play defined as a community theater “chestnut” over the years, and thought it was just another one of “those” plays. Lots for the audience, but not much for the actors. Much to my surprise, its soul sprang right off the page. It was cast in my head in a matter of minutes. Its rich blend of human comedy and human self-inflicted tragedy wrapped in the blanket of American Family Life was just the sort of piece the Playhouse was looking for. And there are so many tiny moments of self-awareness and wry humor as each character trips over the foibles of everyday living, that it’s a treasure chest for actors to explore. A couple of emails to them and we were on our way: Stewart McDermet, Wendy Almeida, Heidi Schwieger, Marilyn Tullgren, Ray Mahoney, Sherman Morrison, Charlotte Traas, Mary Armstong and Jim Bombicino are featured in the production.

In 1939, “Morning’s at Seven” opened on Broadway with great expectations, and closed after only 44 performances. It was the height of the Depression. A flop. It found its fame and fortune when it was revived on Broadway in 1980 winning a variety of Tony and Drama Desk awards including Best Revival, and again in 2002 in a long off-Broadway run garnering another variety of prestigious theater awards. Osborn said upon receiving his Best Revival award, ‘’It was nice to get the Tony, because I had really never even seen one. I’ve had plays produced since 1929, and I finally have a Tony.’’

Osborn’s Brattleboro ConnectionIn doing the research for our production, a friend, Jerry Carbone, found an article, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from October of 1937, which revealed a treasure chest of information about the group called The Brattleboro Theater in the 1930s, a leader of the Youth Movement sweeping the national Theater World during the Depression. The history of the group and their members has been a pet research project of mine, especially the theater’s location in Brattleboro, but information has always been difficult to come by or verify.

Over the years, rumors and memories shared with interested audience members have given us bits and pieces, but not much we can actually confirm. Osgood Perkins, a well-established actor at the time and the father of Tony Perkins, was said to have run the group in its earliest days. And his son had his first acting role here. We pursued that for a while. Then we discovered Tony Perkins had his first role elsewhere. Trying to find the actual location of the Brattleboro Theater itself has been something of a grand “quest” for us, with rumors sending us all over town.

Brattleboro was one of those towns that New York actors and directors escaped to during steamy summers in the city, to do a “summer stock” season of established hits and experimental projects. According to the Daily Brooklyn Eagle article, it seems that in 1937, after three successful summer seasons, the Brattleboro Theater was bringing a fall season of four plays to the St. Felix Street Theater in Brooklyn, New York.

In 1935, according to the article, an advisory board formed the Brattleboro Theater Company with members including Thornton Wilder (author of Our Town), Claude Rains (world renowned actor and teacher) and Paul Osborn, among others. “The group rented the old Estey Estate in Brattleboro, and each player contributed $50 to rebuild the old coach house into a theater. The theater group then embarked on three highly successful Summer theater seasons, during which they established themselves as a serious part of the ‘youth movement’ which is taking place in the American Theater.” The Estey Estate is now the Elks Lodge on the Common.

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Could the old coach house on the property and seen from the street be the old Brattleboro Theater?

While in Brattleboro for the summer seasons in the mid-1930s, playwright Paul Osborn married Florence Louchheim Stol, who was the last residential owner of the Governor Hunt House in Vernon, purchased in 1947, making it a summer gathering place where prominent people in their fields came to stay for “soirees.” Unfortunately, by that time, Osborn wasn’t one of them.

Stol, “heiress to a Wall Street fortune, came to Brattleboro in the 1930s when she married Paul Osborn, an American playwright and protégé of poet Robert Frost,” states a placard at the historic site in Vernon. “Together, the couple founded a summer stock theatre in Brattleboro, but the theatre, as well as the marriage, dissolved when Osborn began an affair with one of its leading ladies.”

In 1940, with the War coming and the Depression deepening, Osborn and his second wife left the theater for the west coast, where his talents were rapidly recognized, particularly his ability to adapt material from other sources. Paul Osborn is the not-very-well-known screenwriter of such huge classic cinema hits such as “East of Eden,” “Wild River, South Pacific,” “Sayonara,” “Madame Curie,” “Portrait of Jennie” and “The Yearling.”

But that’s not the career he really wanted (aside from the paychecks) or planned for. Playwriting and the Theater were his first and longest love. But his Hollywood success became his bread-and-butter, and his life. He had a gift for friendships such as theater caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, directors Elia Kazan, Joshua Logan, and his former professor from the University of Michigan Robert Frost. Frost, while becoming America’s most noted poet, remained a close friend, intrigued by theater and travelling to New York for Osborn’s first nights. Frost hoped to write a play in collaboration with his former student. Elia Kazan credits Osborn with guiding him to the section of the novel “East of Eden” as the film’s basis, as well as discovering James Dean for the film. Martin Scorsese argues that the little known “Wild River” is among Kazan’s finest achievements. Osborn’s screenplay for “Wild River” is an outstanding literary achievement, providing scope for Kazan’s directorial imagination. Among other honors he received later in life was the 1982 Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement.

Walter Kerr of The New York Times said of the 1980 revival of “Morning’s At Seven,” ‘’This seems to me a perfect production of a uniquely shaped play, merry and mellow and just possibly a bit mad. It’s enchanting.’’ The revival, which also won Tony awards for featured actor and director, sparked new curiosity in the rest of Mr. Osborn’s work. The result was that he suddenly, if belatedly, became the most-produced playwright in the 1985-1986 theatrical season. His First Theatrical Success.

Paul Osborn passed away in 1988 knowing he had achieved recognition and appreciation in the field he so loved.

Sam Pilo is the producing artistic director of the Actors Theatre Playhouse and lives in Guilford.