"I've been in America too long. It's so lovely to see a steak that doesn't look like a bedroom slipper! . . . Memory is curiously implacable. It forgets joy, but rarely forgets humiliation." That's probably not the Noel Coward that you've ever heard before, but Noel Coward it is. Given that this 1966 bittersweet comedy was one of Coward's final plays, it's startling to learn that this James Glossman's beautifully mature staging is actually the show's West Coast premiere (a pruned one act version of the play was produced here in 1975 in a nationally touring double-bill called Noel Coward in Two Keys, starring Hume Cronyn.) Is it too late to nominate Coward for some kind of a "best new writer" award? Some have theorized that the show's explicit homosexuality-related themes were Coward's attempt at "coming out" - but even if one doesn't totally agree with the idea, the show still appears to be years ahead of its time - and this partially explains why it's so ripe for rediscovery. Ensconced in his Swiss hotel suite for the season, elderly author-legend Sir Hugo Latymer (Orson Bean) spits venom at his long suffering, astonishingly supportive wife Hilde (Alley Mills), who also serves as his secretary and dogsbody. In fading health, Sir Hugo realizes that his best days are behind him, but an unexpected visit an unexpected visit from from his former mistress, Carlotta (Laurie O-Brien), can still bring out the elderly writer's flamboyant rage. Retired leading lady actress Carlotta wants permission to publish their long ago love letters in her upcoming autobiography, but when Hugo refuses, it turns out the woman has an ace in her sleeve, involving other love letters to someone even further back in Hugo's past, and memory. Glossman's elegantly melancholy staging showcases both Coward's glittering writing and the unexpectedly piquant themes of regret and bitterness. Bean's crusty, curmudgeonly Sir Hugo may miss the smooth, veneer of civility we expect, but he adroitly conveys the sense of a twisted, petulant old tool, who's as dismayed by the loss of his physical faculties as he is regretful of his past mistakes. O'Brien's faded vixen is wonderfully snarky, with a mischievous malice suggesting a hurt creature who is enjoying her spiteful vengeance. Mills' understanding, but coolly clear-eyed wife, turns out to be unexpectedly powerful. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, West Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 7. (310) 477-2055.
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 17, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Jan. 16. Continues through March 7, 2010