BWW Reviews: Noel Coward's Rarely Produced A SONG AT TWILIGHT Receives a Stellar Mounting at Pasadena Playhouse
Noel Coward's later and lesser known play the rarely mounted A Song at Twilight from his Suite in Three Keys (1966) is his most personal. When an old flame pays an unexpected visit to an aging playwright and his long-standing wife, the news she brings could tear them apart and possibly send the writer to prison. Now in an outstanding production at the Pasadena Playhouse through April 13 directed by Coward director extraordinaire Art Manke, A Song at Twilight is dazzlingly intelligent and irresistibly thought-provoking with a superior quartet of actors.
Last season Art Manke directed another Coward gem Fallen Angels, a comedy from the archives, rarely seen. It was the hit of the year in Los Angeles. Now A Song at Twilight promises the same reception this season. It, however, is in a far more serious vein than Angels. In 1966 Coward himself starred in the original London production with Lilli Palmer, so it, as his swan song to the theatre, obviously held substantial meaning for him.
Sir Hugo Latymer (Bruce Davison) is a celebrated writer weakened by illness who has had a comfortable marriage to his secretary Hilde (Roxanne Hart) for over 20 years. The marriage has been a compromise, hardly filled with the passion of love that Latymer holds secretly for another man. Secret, yes, because if he had proclaimed himself a homosexual in England in 1966, by law he would have been arrested and thrown in jail. Another law was passed the following year 1967, condoning gay relationships. Another clearly good reason for Coward's intimate attachment to this piece!
Enter Carlotta Gray (Sharon Lawrence) an actress made famous by Latymer in the 1920s when she essayed one of his plays and took it abroad. He always considered her a mediocre actress and stated so in his autobiography, but the fact remains that they did have an affair at that time. The reason for Carlotta's visit 40 years later is to tell him that she is writing a book and to ask his permission to publish within it his love letters to her. Of course, he is full of disdain for her and refuses. In retaliation, although she claims no revenge, she drops a bomb by telling Latymer that she also has in her possession love letters he wrote to a gay man, who was a friend of hers. Furthermore, she was with him at the time of his death. He gave her the letters, allowing her to do what she willed with them. What appears to be blackmail, is, according to Carlotta, an altruistic rather than vindictive tactic. Deeply hurt by him, she would like to see Latymer show some act of kindness for once in his life.
Should a man openly confess his love for another man? In this day and age, yes, by all means. But, back then in England, such an admission of one's homosexuality was a crime. Latymer did not wish his reputation to be soiled at any cost. An interesting note as well is he kept his love for Peter, the man in question, concealed from Hilde as well. But she admits that she had guessed his sexuality early on in their relationship. It is what Hilde does when she learns the real reason for Carlotta's confrontation with Hugo that lifts the play to another level, altering the manner one looks at the beauty and simplicity of love in old age.
Manke's direction and his actors are nothing short of divine. He orchestrates their moves around each other with the rhythms of a fine symphony. Davison has never been better as Hugo, rumpled, confused, tortured by his own inadequacies as a man and lover. His cat and mouse repartee with Lawrence is astonishing and his reactions staggering and ultimately heartfelt. Lawrence is a wonder as Carlotta. She brings elegance and class to an otherwise despicably revengeful character. And she looks positively ravishing! But...it is Hart that steals the show as the strong-willed, wise, sentimental German woman that understands everything and everybody and stands tall when her loyalty and love are tested. Zach Bandler rounds out the ensemble as the attractive and affable waiter Felix. Tom Buderwitz has designed another lovely set representing this luxurious Switzerland hotel suite, and David Kay Mickelsen's costume design is spot.on perfect. Loved Davison's smoking jackets and Lawrence's stunning dress!
Witty like all Coward plays, A Song at Twilight offers much more than meets the eye. It entertains as it engages and insists that you leave the theatre thoroughly moved and still thinking about what you have just seen. A great and unforgettable evening of theatre!