Noel Coward’s final play, “A Song at Twilight” officially opened Saturday at the Westport Country Playhouse: one of the finest Playhouse’s productions we’ve seen. The simple 4-character play tells the story of Hugo Latymer (Brian Murray), a well known but aging writer who learns he is to be visited by Carlotta Gray (Gardana Rashovich), an girlfriend from many years ago. Hugo lives with his wife Hilde (Mia Dillon) in a luxurious Swiss hotel, and it seems that Hilde has received Carlotta’s request and arranged the visit. The cast is rounded out by the exceptionally handsome Felix (Nicholas Carriere) as the butler. (His handsomeness figures briefly in the plot.)
The story develops over the 90-minute play that Carlotta, a somewhat successful actress, is about to publish her memoirs and wants to make use of some old letters of Hugo’s that Hugo hoped would stay buried.
From the audience’s point of view, we see the slow development and devolution of Hugo’s relationship with Carlotta and Hugo’s own growth, change and eventual defeat. Watching Murray and Rashovich spar with Coward’s well-crafted lines is an absolute delight. This is not an early or mid-Coward comedy but a rather serious piece about an old actor, as Coward himself was when he first performed it. It was in fact his last stage appearance, since his health had begun to fail. Coward based Hugo to some extent on his friend Somerset Maugham, an older actor who lived luxuriously in the south of France. Coward lost his respect for Maugham in later years because of how Maugham treated his daughter, and this somewhat less likeable Maugham is part of Hugo, as is Coward himself.
Murray’s carefully studied portrayal of this older man is delightful to watch, and Rashovich is a powerful force whenever she is on stage. Dillon’s role is smaller, but impressive, as it becomes clear how much she has orchestrated the entire encounter. And Carriere’s Felix is a study in the elegance of an upper-class butler.
The set, by Alexander Dodge, features drab, gray walls as you enter the theater, but when lit from behind, suddenly becomes shades of blue suggesting the distant mountains. A brief cameo by Bryan Kopp and Joseph Merlo through a scrim in the wall suggests some of Hugo’s memories of his youth.
This marvelous production is performed Tuesdays at 8pm, Wednesdays at 2 and 8pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through May 17, 2014. The opening Sundays feature a discussion and talk-back after the play, but we left because we didn’t want to spoil the illusion these excellent actors had just created.
Tickets are available at the Playhouse website or by calling 203-227-4177. The play is recommended for audiences 16 and over.