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Bittersweet Valentine

Noël Coward's career was in eclipse and he was dealing with his own declining powers when he wrote this bittersweet comedy set in a charity retirement home for aging actresses. The result is a sentimental and nostalgic valentine to Edwardian-era theater, and the leading ladies he adored in his youth. Perhaps its strongest asset is its wonderful roles for older actresses, fully realized in this production. The affectionate portraits are strung on three strands of plot: the long-running feud between glamorous Lotta Bainbridge (Katherine Henryk) and her ancient rival May Davenport (Magda Harout); the efforts of the home's residents to persuade "the committee" to build them a solarium; and the intrusion of a pushy newspaper columnist (Corinne Shore) who invades their space in search of a "human-interest" story. The piece is saved from soap opera bathos by Coward's wit, and frank acknowledgement of the realities of decline and death. Director Charlie Mount has assembled a fine large ensemble who offer richly nuanced performances. Among the highlights is Betty Garrett's impish turn as a woman who has retreated into blissful memories, dementia and playing with matches. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Nov. 23. (323) 851-7977 or www.theatrewest.org.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Oct. 10. Continues through Nov. 23, 2008

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