Finding love is one of the great joys and tragedies of life. If you are lucky, then you won’t be haunted by former lovers and love letters, but in the case of Noel Coward’s “A Song at Twilight,” the luck and love are only sadly remembered.
In this production at the Pasadena Playhouse, the Swiss mountains can be seen in the distance from the French doors of a luxury suite in a Swiss hotel. An older woman, Hilde (Roxanne Hart), is discussing her husband’s business over the phone. Her heavy German accent takes some getting used to but we learn she’s Sir Hugo Latymer’s former secretary who became his wife about 20 years ago.
Hugo (Bruce Davison) is not a pleasant man. He complains to and about his wife. There are no displays of affection between them. While Hilde is excited to meet with a female friend her husband doesn’t like, Hugo is expecting a visit from a former lover, Carlotta (Sharon Lawrence).
Carlotta hasn’t been carrying a torch for Hugo. She arrives looking wonderfully young compliments of a plastic surgeon and slyly hoping for something–permission to publish love letters from Hugo in her own autobiography, one that will only capture the public’s interest by connecting her to the more famous and distinguished Hugo. That’s despite the passage of time, children and a few husbands that followed her two year fling with Hugo.
Hugo refuses, but Carlotta has a way to force Hugo’s hand–she possess letters written by Hugo to Perry Sheldon. He died, poor and forlorn, after he had sent letters to his great love, the deep in denial and even deeper in the closet Hugo. Even now, Hugo mumbles about having “homosexual tendencies” in the past while Carlotta declares, “You’re as queer as a coot and you have been all your life.”
You might remember Davison from “Harry and the Hendersons” or from his current role as the Rear Admiral Arthur Shepard in “Last Resort.” Davison has also been on Broadway as part of the original production of “The Elephant Man” and he’s won Golden Globe for his role in “Longtime Companion.” His Hugo is full of bluster and bitterness, disgruntled and dissatisfied with life despite the beautifully cheery and elegant room by set designer Tom Buderwitz.
While Hugo might seem like the main character, it’s the women that dominate this drama under the direction of Art Manke. Emmy Award-nominated (“NYPD Blue” and “Grey’s Anatomy”) Lawrence is cool, crafty and sophisticated. She comes in with a satisfied blow to her face, like the cat that swallowed the canary, but not at all catty toward Hart’s pragmatic and decidedly frumpy Hilde. The Tony-nominated (“The Devil’s Disciple”) Hart may not be dressed for glamour but her Hilde exudes confidence and intelligence–she’s not been beaten down by Hugo’s sourness and she’s known true love and surrendered to it.
This play premiered in 1966 and the Pasadena Playhouse’s artistic director Sheldon Epps reminds us in the press notes that “In 1966, when A Song at Twilight premiered, England was a year away from decriminalizing homosexuality. Coward, who reticent about this topic through most of his career, also played the part Hugo Latymer, and earned critical and audience praise. Now, almost fifty years later, with the landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings this past year overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, this is a perfect time to revisit the play which dates from the beginning of the gay rights movement.”
So much has changed. Now one of the great Facebook celebrities is George Takei, a gay Asian American man who married his longtime love. Don’t wait until your twilight years to find love and who wants to sit alone at twilight filled with regret.
A SONG AT TWILIGHTwill play through Sunday, April 13. The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101. The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets, priced from $44 to $64, are available by calling The Pasadena Playhouse at 626-356-7529 or by visiting The Pasadena Playhouse Box Office, Tuesday – Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. during non-performance dates. On performance dates the Box Office is open Tuesday – Saturday from 1:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.