When Hugo Latymer’s (Brian Murphy) old flame, Carlotta Gray (Gordana Rashovich) resurfaces, threatening to publish incriminating letters she possesses, she gives him a choice.
Which letters would he rather hide from public knowledge – scandalous love letters or correspondence that exposes his cruelty?
The content of the letters and brief nudity (in a tableau behind a scrim) may surprise the audience in Hartford Stage’s A Song at Twilight, opening to the general public this weekend. But it is Hugo’s reaction and deep contemplation about the significance of the letters in a societal context that proves most intriguing.
Broadway veteran Murray – a three-time Tony Award nominee for his work in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1968), The Little Foxes (1997) and The Crucible (2002) on Broadway – plays a famous, aged writer waiting for a visit from a former lover at his fancy Swiss hotel room, where he is staying with his wife, Hilde (Mia Dillon, who won the Tony in 1982 for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Crimes of the Heart and who has appeared in Broadway shows like Our Town).
Just as Hugo wishes to control adaptations of his writing to film, he desperately grasps to control the information about himself, especially his past, guarding a shocking secret that would change his life and legacy. Or would it?
Sir Noël Coward, an English playwright, is known for writing witty and flamboyant works and A Song at Twilight carries notes of both. It is a play with little action and few characters (four), so the words drive the story and you have to follow the dialogue to pick up on its humor, intrigue and drama. It is a play for the intellectual. The strong acting carries if you ever drift off from the words.
Hugo seems to be a blend of Hugh Hefner – holding onto sex appeal at an old age – and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers – greatly protective of his work and personal life. Murray delivers humor exquisitely beneath his character’s grumpy persona.
The tongue and cheek relationship between Hugo and Dillon’s Hilde gave me the most laughs with their dry and not so dry humor. It took me several scenes to realize they were supposed to be husband and wife instead of writer and personal assistant. Dillon’s accent seemed to waiver between British and German, so it took me a little while to place her character’s German heritage, but I enjoyed her sarcasm and strength in the role.
Rashovich, a Hartford Stage veteran with Broadway credits in Conversations with My Father, Cymbeline and Old Acquaintances, plays the most dynamic character of the bunch as Hugo’s former lover. She holds the key to up the ante in the story and holds all the cards – and letters. While she poses a threat to Hugo’s life as the world knows it, she is no villain. Blackmail and extortion are options for her, but she is ultimately a purveyor of truth.
Felix (Nicholas Carrière) is the friendly waiter we all hope to get.
The only moments in the play that seemed to relate to the title were tableaus of Hugo’s past love affair, with traces of nudity, as he reflects on perhaps one of the most meaningful relationships in his life. A string symphony plays in the background, as though Hugo is listening to a record play as he winds down for the evening.
The black out at the end leaves you to do nothing but think yourself about the implications of the secret exposed and whether it is really an indiscretion worth causing Hugo shame. It is unclear what he thinks himself, but that is the nature of this contemplative play. It’s meant to make you think.
A Song at Twilight opens Friday, Feb. 28 and runs through April 29th. The play, directed by Mark Lamos, is an hour and a half long without intermission and is an elegant addition to the Hartford Stage’s lineup for its 50th anniversary season. The Hartford Stage is located at 50 Church St. in Hartford. For ticket information, visit the stage company’s website www.hartfordstage.org or call the Box Office at 860-527-5151.
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