Thursday, April 03, 2014

Review: "A Song At Twilight" is a Must-See

(L–R) Roxanne Hart, Sharon Lawrence, Bruce Davison Photo by Michael Lamont

I viewed A Song of Twilight without knowing much of the background story or the timeframe.  My understanding of the show was that it was about a celebrated author Sir Hugo Latymer (Bruce Davison) in his later years, who - after living a life of wealth, fame, and luxury - is confronted about the details of a past love.  At first we think this might be Carlotta Gray (Sharon Lawrence) who is having dinner at Latymer's suite, set-up by his secretary-wife of twenty years Hilde Latymer (Roxanne Hart), but as the best of plays reveal, the story is much more complicated than the set-up.
It is 1960s Europe and Hugo has formed an image that has conformed to its standards.  In this later point of his life, he is confronted with the fact that his actions have not been without consequences.

The opulence in which Hugo lives his life is apparent from the set design, a luxurious suite of elegant furnishings that establishes its own character while the audience waits for the show to begin.  It is through this setting that we get a sense of Hugo's wealth and success but also at its apparent emptiness.  In this space, Davison portrays a man who is proud and boastful and - yet - constantly standing on edge of secrets that turn out to be thinly veiled.  

Hugo is held together by his wife Hilde, a mostly serious and focused woman who - after decades of marriage - understands that her husband requires a lot of management and a firm hand in both his professional and personal life.  Hart infuses into the character an appropriate amount of humor and severity, showing a woman who takes things in good humor and stride, but is resoundingly practical and fiercely protective of her husband.

Hilde stands in foil to Hugo's past love interest Carlotta Gray, a retired beautiful actress who supports her youthful looks by getting injections and living off of alimony.  We are initially led to believe that Gray may be hitting hard times - asking Hugo for money - but we find in Gray a very complex character.  She is a confident and shrewd business-minded person who is asking Hugo to provide permission to publish his love letters.  At his vehement denial, she reveals that she has ownership of other letters - from Hugo to a past male lover.  While this character could potentially appear selfish and advantageous, Lawrence brings depth to the life of Carlotta, as she tries to make Hugo understand her emotional appeal - to own up to what his actions in hiding may have cost.

Director Art Manke writes that
It is important to know that A Song at Twilight was written and first performed in 1966, one year before the British Parliament ended its draconian punishment of homosexuals. So in the play, it is no wonder why Sir Hugo Latymer responds the way he does to Carlotta's proposition. Sir Hugo's every moment of existence is colored by fear of exposure, which playwright Noël Coward knew only too well...
A Song at Twilight offers a candid look at the challenges of identity in personal and public spaces and what that might mean to personal happiness.  We are presented with a man who may have all the checkboxes of success - wealth, fame, career, and a long-term successful relationship - gained by denying an aspect of himself that could have provided him with the personal happiness that comes with intimacy and love. 

My attendance coincided with Pasadena Playhouse's Talkback Tuesday, featuring coming out stories from members and supporters of the LGBT community.  As panelists discussed the challenges of "coming out" in a world that is still learning to accept LGBT people, we realize that A Song of Twilight is not a solo song nor is it one of the past.  With its talented cast that deftly strikes a balance with humor and its subject matter, this production brings to life a story that should be seen and told often, one that is still relevant to the world today. 

A Song at Twilight is currently running at the Pasadena Playhouse until April 13, 2014.

-Charity Tran, Editor

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