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Truths come out at the Pasadena Playhouse

Noël Coward's 'A Song at Twilight' is a sophisticated later work from the playwright.

March 28, 2014|By Lynne Heffley
  • Bruce Davison and Sharon Lawrence in a scene from Noel Coward's "A Song for Twilight" now at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Bruce Davison and Sharon Lawrence in a scene from Noel… (Courtesy of Michael…)

Noël Coward is comfortably at home at the Pasadena Playhouse, thanks to an ongoing partnership with award-winning director Art Manke, who helmed Coward's seldom-done "Fallen Angels" at the Playhouse last year. Manke, a notable Coward specialist, is acutely sensitive to the emotional depths beneath the playwright's signature sophistication and frothy wit. In "A Song at Twilight," one of Coward's last works, running at the Playhouse through April 13, the emotional resonances are closer to the surface — and Manke and a dream cast realize them to the fullest.

Coward wasn't "out," but neither was he rigidly closeted and his work adroitly teased at the harsh mores of the day. Part of his trilogy, "Suite in Three Keys," the frankly self-revelatory "Twilight" was first produced in London in 1966 — a year before Britain's long-held criminalization of homosexuality officially ended. In it, elderly misanthrope, "grand man of letters" and deeply repressed Sir Hugo Latymer (Bruce Davison) is recovering from a long illness at a posh Swiss hotel, attended by his solicitous German wife, Hilde (wonderful Roxanne Hart).

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An unexpected communiqué from actress Carlotta, his former mistress, throws Hugo into a tizzy. Carlotta (Sharon Lawrence), from whom Hugo had parted decades before "in a blaze of mutual acrimony," is due to arrive for dinner at any moment.

Pitch-perfect Davison enters as Hugo with tousled white hair, neat white beard and mustache, fretful in silk robe and pajamas and chafing at Hilde's brisk injunctions against excitement. Hilde, no downtrodden cipher, rejects Hugo's increasingly venomous insults and, clearly more nurse and nanny than Hugo's wife of two decades, chides him to bathe. She infuriates him further by pointing out where the Maalox is, should Carlotta's visit upset him.

Suspicious of Carlotta's motives, Hugo's scathing response to Hilde's refusal to cancel her dinner plans with a friend and act as a buffer when Carlotta arrives hints more at fear than anger. (Davison never overdoes either Hugo's vitriol or his shuttered vulnerability.)

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