Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Theater Review: A Song at Twilight -- Hartford Stage

Gordana Rashovich, Nicholas Carrière and Brian Murray.
A Song from Noel Coward’s Twilight Doesn’t Shine in Modern Age
By Lauren Yarger
In Noel Coward’s time, and when one of his last plays, A Song at Twilight was written in 1966, it must have been shocking to have the possible outing of a closeted gay man be the driving force of a plot.

In 2014, when such a play is just one of a plethora of stories written by men, featuring male characters and very often, gay men’s issues, we have to wonder why two of Connecticut’s theaters have chosen to include a revival of  it on their stages this season (currently it’s at Hartford stage through March 16. It moves to Westport Country Playhouse April 29), especially when there are so many other great plays out there just begging to be produced.

Is it because this play gives new insight into the time period’s less-than-welcoming attitude toward homosexuality? Not really. It’s no secret that prominent men, in this case international literary figure Hugo  Latymer (Brian Murray), maintained relationships with women, in this case his wife, Hilde (Mia Dillon) and a former mistress, Carlotta Gray (Gordana Rashovich), to hide their true sexual identities. Laws and social attitudes did not allow people to be openly gay back then without ramifications.  

Is it because the play gives new insight into the women who were used by such men back then? Not really. Hilde is kind of a mousey, retiring woman, who figures out her husband’s true nature, but who is content to play along despite his rather cruel verbal abuse. She’s just upset that he didn’t let her in on his secret. “He’s all I have,” she offers as a pathetic excuse. No, there’s no great development of a strong woman character there.

Carlotta, meanwhile, also isn’t upset about being used – she was 19 and a virgin when she became involved with Hugo. No, the most important thing to her too is that Hugo didn’t trust her with his secret. Seriously, what guy wrote this?

Any way, Hugo seems to think it’s perfectly fine to degrade Hilde and to taunt her with the idea that her closest female friend might be a lesbian. She leaves him on his own to entertain a “rendezvous with the very distant past” when old flame Carlotta calls and asks for a meeting.

He puts down Carlotta’s acting career and isn’t exactly nice since he “prefers to see people as they are,” he explains, rather than in the sympathetic way they’d like to be seen.

It dawns on him that this strategy might not have served him well in life, however, when Carlotta asks Hugo for permission to include his old love letters in the memoir she is writing. When he refuses, the bitter woman produces another set of letters Hugo once wrote to the real love of his life – a man. This guy somehow was with Carlotta at the end of his life and gave her the letters. Hugo apparently, unaware that his love had passed away, will be unable to stop the letters from being published by another writer and his secret will be out. That is the play’s major plot point. Shocked! No, not really.

When Hugo isn’t salivating over his waiter, Felix (Nicholas Carriere), he remembers his male lover. Director Mark Lamos gives us a staging of their encounters, including nudity, behind a scrim in the mountains surrounding the Swiss hotel suite in which the action takes place (set design by Alexander Dodge). It’s totally unnecessary. We don’t get to see Hilde’s memory of the one true love she lost in the concentration camp…. Or Carlotta’s memory of losing her virginity…..so we have to wonder why this memory is so important to stage.

A Song at Twilight doesn’t really offer anything new to the mix of plays out there about homosexual issues (Please bring Geoffrey Nauffts’ insightful play Next Fall or the delightful musical Far From Heaven to Connecticut instead!) This one just offers a bunch of unhappy, unlikable people putting each other down. This is actually the first in a trilogy of plays Coward wrote set in the same hotel suite, by the way. Twilight isn’t interesting enough, however, to make me wonder what else takes place there.

A Song at Twilight plays through March 16; Evening performances are most Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday evenings at 7:30 pm.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; matinee performances on Sundays, and select Wednesdays and Saturdays, at 2 pm.   Tickets $25-$95.  (860) 527-5151; www.hartfordstage.org.

Additional offerings from Hartford Stage for this production:
The AfterWords Discussions take place March 4, 5, 11, 12. Join members of the cast and artistic staff for a free discussion, immediately following 7:30 pm performances on Tuesdays or 2 pm. matinees on Wednesdays. FREE.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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