The following is my interview with Brian Murray when he was at Hartford Stage performing in Noel Coward’s “A Song at Twilight” in 2014. (The production also played Westport Country Playhouse). According to his Facebook posts, Murray has passed on.. He was 80.
By FRANK RIZZO
Arguably, Noel Coward’s most famous play is the witty still-in-love divorce comedy, “Private Lives.”
But the playwright’s own private life was that of a discreet gay British gentleman, a subject he explored indirectly in his late-in-life play, “A Song at Twilight,” now playing at Hartford Stage through March 16.
But Coward didn’t base the 1966 play’s central character of international literary figure Sir Hugo Latymer on himself but rather British author W. Somerset Maugham, a closeted man of a decidedly darker spirit than the bon vivant Coward.
In the play, Hugo’s long-ago romance with a young man is threatened to be exposed by the publishing of love letters, now in possession by a former female mistress of Hugo’s (played by Gordana Rashovich) who comes to visit him and his wife (Mia Dillon) at their Swiss villa.
The plot echos an incident in 1962, when Maugham’s gay nephew informed him that he was planning to write a biography of his uncle. Maugham wrote his nephew a check for the same amount of money he would have received from the book and the biography was not published —- until after Maugham’s died in 1965 in a villa in France.
`”There’s not much Coward in [the play],” says Brian Murray, who plays Sir Hugo in the Hartford Stage production. “He’s a nasty old man. And Coward was a very, very kind man with wonderful humor all the time.”
Director Mark Lamos says when he first approached the play he thought Coward was “outing” himself “but when I read it I thought, ‘Well, this isn’t like him at all.”’ Though not public about being gay, Coward lived his homosexual life openly but discreetly. “That was very accepted in its day,” says Lamos.