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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
A Song at Twilight

This is not a tragic situation, Hugo. all the tragedy was drained out of it when Perry died. There's only comedy left now. Rather bitter comedy, I admit, but not entirely unenjoyable. — Carlotta

 song at twiligght
Edmond Genest and Laila Robins
How beautiful a feeling it must have been for playwright Noel Coward, seriously ailing during the play's London premiere in 1966, to know this last play of his was received with accolades and bouquets. Unlike the last plays of America's two greatest playwrights Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams, Sir Noel's penchant for discreet passion, cloaked in witty repartee, remained until the end constant, traditional and always amusing.

It was produced as a double bill in both London (with Coward playing the lead) and opened in New York in 1974 soon after his death, under the umbrella title Suite in Two Keys, A Song at Twilight was originally preceded by a short one-act play Come into the Garden, Maude .

Funny and sad with possibly autobiographical references, A Song at Twilight stands securely alone in a fine and most welcome production that opens the new season at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. As is often true of most Coward's plays there is in A Song at Twilight a commendable attempt to balance fluff with substance. And when deftly performed and handsomely staged, it becomes like one of the play's major props, a bittersweet toast with chilled pink champagne.

But the elegance of the private suite in a Swiss Hotel (as beautifully designed by Brittany Vasta) only covers the soiled linen that is about to be exposed. It may be the old story of how the past inevitably comes back to haunt you, but with Coward and a terrific cast performing under the graceful direction of Paul Mullins, what could be and is predictable is served with charm and worldliness.

Twenty-one year STNJ veteran Edmond Genest is splendid as the suave, but also aging and sickly author with a well kept secret, or so he thinks. And with the director's gentle touch and Coward's words to guide him, Genest appears t be having great fun finessing his character Hugo Latymer's caustic wit around the writer's reluctance to publicly reveal his homosexual past.

Shocked by a former's mistress's disclosure that she has letters from him to his former male lover and secretary, the writer is surprised to discover that he really has no secrets, especially from Hilde, his German wife. She is played with a perfectly clipped accent and warmly stoic presence by Alison Weller. But it is for Laila Robins, as Carlotta, the glamorous and highly motivated woman in his past, to light up the suite with her unsettling disclosure.

Laila is simply dazzling dressed to kill in a stunning yellow cocktail dress and sparkling shoes (brava to costume designer Nikki Delhommenger). She makes it impossible to take your eyes off of her as she surveys the posh territory and slithers around its obstacles including her prey. Watching Robins and Genest seated downstage and consume a complete dinner from caviar to green salad through a steak while exchanging bristling bon mots is a howl and a highlight.

If Hugo's predicament never becomes maudlin or allowed to lapse into tragedy it is because Coward's gift for gab just would not allow it. What is allowed somewhat tongue-in-cheekily is a young, good-looking butler of international pedigree (Ben Houghton) who not only serves the drinks and the meal but plays a couple of Coward's songs on the grand piano. "And he sings too," Carlotta says in a whispered aside to the audience. It's always a grand night for singing for some bitters and bubbly with Sir Noel.

A Song at Twilight by Noel Coward Directed by Paul Mullins

Cast: Edmond Genest (Hugo Latymer), Ben Houghton (Felix), Laila Robins (Carlotta Gray), Alison Weller (Hilde Latymer)
Set Design: Brittany Vasta
Costume Design: Nikki Delhomme
Lighting Designer: Michael Giannitti
Production Stage Manager: Alison Cote
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes including intermission
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Rd), on the campus of Drew University, Madison, N.J.
Tickets: 973 - 408 - 5600
Performances: Sun., Tues. and Wed. Evenings at 7:30 pm; Thurs., Fri., Saturday evenings at 8 pm; Sat. and Sun. mats. at 2 pm.
From 05/11/16 Opened 05/14/16 Ends 05/29/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 05/14/16
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