BWW Reviews: A SONG AT TWILIGHT in Westport
In this day and age, it's a bit tricky to produce a play written decades ago about homosexuality because most people today accept each other's race, religion or sexual lifestyle. But A Song at Twilight, one of Noel Coward's infrequently produced plays, remains compelling and bittersweet and withstands the changing views of society.
The play takes place in 1965 a luxury Swiss hotel where the elderly novelist Sir Hugo Latymer (Brian Murray) lives with his German- born secretary turned wife, Hilde (Mia Dillon). They are virtually in exile from Hugo's native England, where homosexuality was still a criminal offense. Enter Carlotta Gray (Gordana Rashovich), a not very successful actress with whom he had a relationship "for exactly two years" and from which they "parted in a blaze of mutual acrimony." She asks his permission to publish some of his letters to her in her own memoir and as well as letters she kept from Hugo's "only true love," Perry Sheldon, who died a few years earlier.
Here is where it gets interesting and endures the H word. Is it just blackmail by an ageing actress who is in less demand and needs money to keep up her physical appearance? Or does Carlotta really want to right some wrongs, including Hugo's cruel snubbing of Perry when he was dying of leukemia? How much does a famous artist owe the world other than his best work? With either set of letters, she would have proof that Hugo, despite his claiming to be a "truth-teller," has been living a lie. That lie could easily have been updated with cross-dressing, recreational drug use, plagiarism, money laundering, tax evasion or any other potential scandal.
Which makes Hugo's relationship with Hilde even more curious. Although the play is partially based on the memoirs of W. Somerset Maugham and by a passage in a biography of Max Beerbohm, A Song at Twilight is also about Hilde. She knows everything there is to know about Hugo and she is still unwavering in her loyalty to him. She is secretary/wife/mother/nurse to him, even though he is difficult and brutally insensitive. In the play, all the main characters, including the waiter, Felix (Nicholas Carriere) know there is a price to pay in their professions. For all of them, it's silence. They know, but they know not to say anything.
A Song of Twilight, a co-production with the Hartford Stage company, was directed flawlessly by Mark Lamos. Originally, a two-act play, it ran about 90 minutes with no intermission. Brian Murray was ideal as the novelist whose self-centeredness is simultaneously unbearable and pathetic. It was a pleasure to see Mia Dillon back at the Westport Country Playhouse. Even when she isn't on stage in this play, she is missed. She captured Hilde's complex character with her trustworthiness, disappointments, acquiescence and dignity. Rashovich was convincing as the flashy, desperate second-rate actress. Carriere exudes extraordinary presence as the smooth waiter who manages to capture Hugo's personal interest. Not credited are two actors who are seen briefly as Hugo silently recalls his time with Perry. Matthew Richard's lighting design was exceptional, as was Alexander Dodge's scenic design. Westport Country Playhouse's sets and lighting are always wonderful, but the details that went into this production were amazing from every sightline.
A bonus is the artwork for the program. Once again, Sean Pomposello created a clever cover. He nailed it with a seemingly simple image of a man,his face the color of the color of his tuxedo, and a shadow in bright pink to represent a man's two lives, and one more colorful than the other. It's brilliant.
A bit of trivia: A Song at Twilight, which is the opening production of the Westport Country Playhouse, was first performed there as a Script-in-Hand reading directed by Anne Keefe. The closing show of the season, Intimate Apparel, will be another play that was performed as a Script-in-Hand reading. Please read BroadwayWorld's interview with Keefe about these readings. But do not miss the opportunity to see A Song at Twilight, which Coward considered his most serious play. In this critic's humble opinion, it makes some of Coward's other plays seem like lightweights. Through May 17. Call 203-227-4177 for tickets. Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. www.WestportPlayhouse.org