Noel Coward wrote over 50 published plays, many of which were greeted with huge success. Notable among his plays are Hay Fever, Blithe Spirit, Design For Living, and Private Lives, as well as his patriotic scripts Whom We Serve and the immense Cavalcade with its cast of 100+. Coward also liked to write one-act plays which he gathered together into evenings. There were the ten plays of Tonight at 8:30, and at the end of his life a trio of plays he called Coward in Three Keys, which consisted of A Song at Twilight, Shadows of the Evening, and Come into the Garden, Maude. Eventually, because Come into the Garden, Maude was cut because Coward found it “too depressing,” when the production came to New York it was called Coward in Two Keys and eventually toured the country including Los Angeles.
The Odyssey Theatre is presenting A Song at Twilight as an evening in itself. Of the plays in “Two Keys” it is by far the most successful and still resonates today. This is a beautiful production staring Orson Bean, his wife Alley Mills, Laurie O’Brien, and David Rogge. Bean plays Hugo Latymer, an aging but successful writer who has lived his life closeted. Many thought this could be Coward himself but most felt it was based on Somerset Maugham. In the play Hugo is confronted with his duplicity by an old girlfriend, Carlotta, here magnificently played by O’Brien. She holds letters he wrote to her but also letters he wrote to a dead male lover whom he had abandoned years earlier.
The play is a game of cat and mouse complicated when Hugo’s wife and secretary Hilde, played by the lovely Alley Mills, enters the scene. Hugo feels that Carlotta is blackmailing him but eventually it is revealed that her purpose is to get him to admit the people he harmed by his fake heterosexual front. Hilde has a gorgeous speech in which she agrees that he should have stated what was obvious and tells him he is still loved deeply by both women.
Bean is very effective as Hugo, though a bit unsure at times of his lines, but that will clear up with playing. The really beautiful set by Darcy Prevost presents us with a rich and opulent hotel suite where the action takes place. James Glossman does a fine job of directing and gets some powerful performances from his cast. Glossman claims this production is a premiere and that it never played on Broadway, but I suggest he look up the history of the play. A Song at Twilight plays at the Odyssey Theatre until March 7th.