In this age of Facebook, Twitter, and texting, where the English language has been reduced to grunts and groans and fractured grammar, Noel Coward has come to the rescue, at least for an extremely delicious few hours, in the form of the West Coast premiere of A Song at Twilight at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.
The story, which takes place in a luxurious hotel suite in Switzerland, beautifully designed by Darcy Prevost, revolves around an aging Sir Hugo Latymer, a successful author, played by Orson Bean, his wife of 20 years, Hilde, exquisitely performed by Alley Mills, and a former mistress named Carlotta Gray, played by Laurie O’Brien who gave a credible performance. David Rogge as Felix, the flirtatious waiter, was appropriately handsome and added some comedic elements.
Skillfully directed by James Glossman, the opening of Act I consists of delightfully crisp dialogue between Hugo and Hilde. Formerly his secretary, she oversees his business affairs and is quite aware that their marriage is one of convenience to hide his homosexuality.
The fun begins as after many years and many facelifts, Carlotta wants to meet with him. Hilde orders a special dinner for the two of them and takes her leave. Carlotta arrives and begins by reminiscing about their time together when she was an actress and he was a playwright. Finally, she gets down to business and asks if she can publish his love letters in her memoir. Hugo is appalled by her request and refuses at which point Carlotta pulls out the ace from up her sleeve in the form of love letters he had written to his former, now-dead lover, Perry Sheldon, and threatens to publish them which would ruin Hugo’s life.
Throughout the second act, Carlotta’s hurt feelings are revealed, and recriminations fly back and forth. Hugo reluctantly admits that in his younger days he had homosexual tendencies at which point Carlotta sneers, “You’re as queer as a coot and you have been all your life.”
As Hilde, Mills creates a fascinating character with an elegant bearing and a most engaging accent that causes you to hang onto every word. It is natural to her character and never feels imposed in any way.
Bean’s performance was a bit forced in the beginning, with a sprinkling of histrionics as he played out to the audience punching the ends of his lines as though they were the closings of grand speeches. That said, as the play progressed, he did settle into a more believable, less mannered delivery, with his final moments being quite touching.
Noel Coward once said, “I can accept anything in the theatre provided it amuses me or moves me. But if it does neither, I want to go home.” This play will both amuse and move you and you will definitely not want to go home until the last word is spoken.
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, Ca 90025
Run: Wed. – Sun. Thru March 7
Pay what you can performances:
Jan. 22, 23, Feb. 12 & 21.
Contact Beverly Cohn