This review contains minor SPOILERS, so be warned.
I saw A Song at Twilight on a Saturday night at the New Jersey Shakespeare Theatre. I sat in the front row, close to the action. During the dinner scene it felt like I could have reached out and grabbed the salt-shaker.
The plot: famed author Sir Hugo Latymer meets his former mistress, Carlotta Gray, who wants to publish his love letters for her impending autobiography. That Sir Hugo refuses is no surprise, as Coward does a good job of quickly establishing his character. The plot turns when we discover that Carlotta has another set of Sir Hugo love letters, addressed to another person and far more damaging.
Blackmail, I thought, but the truth is more complex. Carlotta is still ‘irritated’ (her word) about the way she was treated. As Sir Hugo points out, thirty plus years is a long time to carry a grudge. Carlotta then calls Sir Hugo a heartless prick (I’m paraphrasing), which is certainly true, but doesn’t solve anything. They’re at an impasse. Sir Hugo won’t apologize or equivocate – which is what I THINK she wants – even though the second set of letters will ruin his career.
One of the things I liked about A Song at Twilight is that I couldn’t guess the ending. To Coward’s credit, he spurns the predictable. There are red herrings: the liquor cabinet, the medicine chest, even the butler. In the end two of the characters (neither of them Sir Hugo) act like grown-ups to resolve the situation.
The writing is excellent, the characters well-drawn. I thought the female characters were a bit more developed. Sir Hugo isn’t likeable. He treats his wife, Hilde, like a secretary. This makes sense, since she is his secretary. With the exception of the piano-playing butler, none of the characters are likeable, but they are interesting, and by the play’s end I felt sympathy for Sir Hugo. This might have been due to the actor’s interpretation of the final scene.
My only quibble is that the publication of the first set of Sir Hugo’s love letters would serve the purpose of reinforcing his desired persona, so I wondered why he refused. But since he’s an ornery bastard who gives away nothing, it made sense. Even his ‘generous’ gesture at the play’s end felt like a transaction.
I enjoyed A Song At Twilight very much. The sets at the New Jersey Shakespeare Theatre are always first-rate, and this was no exception. Parts of the play are witty, but the atmosphere of the production is too melancholy to be funny. The characters stay true to themselves, and the ending packs a punch.
An enjoyable night of culture!