Waiting in The Wings is Noel Coward’s salute to women who were leading ladies of the stage at an earlier time in their careers, and who have ended up in a retirement home, which has been set up as a private charity, at a distance from London. Coward always had a weakness for powerful and talented women from the theater. He first wrote about actresses in Hay Fever in the character of the eccentric Judith Bliss. In Waiting in the Wings, written late in his career, he celebrates a whole houseful.
Devoted to his mother, Coward understood life in a retirement home, and in typical fashion he viewed the goings-on there as sometimes comic, often hilarious, sometimes tragic, always poignant – but always with great love and respect. As anyone involved in the theater would tell you, the life on the stage can be a hard way to make a living. It was wonderful to see the elder stateswomen of the theater treated so well by a world that often worships youth and beauty. The Wings, as the home is called, is underwritten by others from the stage who have not fallen on hard times.
Theatre West is one of the oldest and most venerable theaters in Los Angeles. Its most acclaimed accomplishment was the original production of Spoon River Anthology, which has gone on to be produced around the world. Like the Wings itself, the retirement home in the play, the theater company has many members who have had distinguished careers, so the play is an inspired choice.
The cast includes Walter Berry, Phyllis Franklin, Layla Galloway, Magda Harout, Seemah Wilder, Sandra Tucker, Dianne Travis, Katherine Henryk, and the wonderful Betty Garrett, who incidentally will be celebrating her 90th birthday next May. They were all wonderful, but the standouts were Katherine Henryk and Magda Harout (who represents the third generation of the acting family known as the Armenian Barrymores). They are warring divas, and their scenes together are a joy to watch.
Betty Garrett is extremely moving as a star who has developed dementia and become a danger to herself and others. Her every entrance gets a laugh and her exit, worthy of Sunset Boulevard or A Streetcar Named Desire, brought tears to many eyes. Walter Barry was very moving as her suitor who visits her every Sunday without fail. There are also fine supporting performances by David P. Johnson and Arden Lewis as the caregivers.
Charlie Mount nicely directs the play, keeping all the women moving about in a realistic manner. The sets by Jeff G. Rack are perfect representing the comfortable but simple retirement home. I particularly loved the projections on the set before the play began, depicting younger versions of the inhabitants of the home.
Waiting in The Wings plays at Theatre West until Nov 23rd.