Monthly Archive for: ‘February, 2016’
A Song at Twilight
Z Space, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco
Runs Jan. 20 – 31
Theatre Rhino, the world’s oldest continuously producing professional queer theatre, presents Noel Coward’s two act bittersweet comedy A Song at Twilight for a limited run at Z Space. Directed and starring John Fischer, the play tackles the tough issues of gay ‘outing’, romantic revenge, past indiscretions and sexual repression in a semi-comic battle of wits between an aging writer and a former lover. Coward, who preferred to live his life as a gay man, supposedly based his character on Somerset Maugham, who chose to camouflage his proclivities with a façade of heterosexuality.
Set in a Swiss hotel suite in 1966, we meet Sir Hugo Latymer (Fischer), who is nervously preparing for a visit from a former lover. He’s so full of exaggerated bluster, hand gestures and comical facial gestures that even Helen Keller would detect his overt homosexuality. His dutiful wife Hilde, played by Tamar Cohn, lovingly accepts Hugo’s bullyism. Enter Carlotta Gray, Hugo’s former mistress, played deliciously by Sylvia Kratins as the strong-willed antagonist who wants Hugo to allow her to publish old love letters for her upcoming memoir. Hugo, believing she just wants to capitalize of his fame, denies her request.
What appears to be a re-igniting of past passions quickly denigrates into a verbal sparring match when Carlotta announces she possesses love letters written between Hugo and ‘the love of his life’, the recently deceased Perry Sheldon. What seems like bitter revenge for Hugo’s disdain for Carlotta is revealed to be her disgust at the man’s callous denial and treatment of Sheldon and more importantly, his shame existence as a ‘normal’ hetero man. She dismisses him saying “You’re as queer as a coot and you have been all your life.” Hugo’s panic is palpable, fearing the damage to his reputation and marriage to Hilde. When Hilde returns and is made aware of the evening’s plot twist, she instinctively protects Hugo. In an ironic twist, she herself had found letters from Hugo and Perry and was aware of his pretense the entirety of their marriage of convenience. Carlotta relents on her threat to out Hugo and all ends’ well.
Given the time period when Coward wrote this play, and just before the beginnings of the sexual revolution, Hugo’s character is symbolic of many gay men forced to live double lives of shame and repression. That Coward never did accept that diminished role makes this work ever more cogent and honest. The majority of today’s young gay youth may never have had lived such a duplicitous existence, but Fischer and company illuminate the historical fact and shine the light on it without prejudice or disdain.
“A Song at Twilight” by Noel Coward is produced by Theatre Rhinoceros. It plays at Z Below, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco, through January 31.