Jonathan Tolins’ The Twilight of the Golds, which lasted all of 15 previews and 29 performances when it debuted on Broadway in 1993, is an unadulterated period piece. It is set in a time when AIDS was a probable death sentence and when genetic research hadn’t made the huge leaps of the past decade or so. Watched from today’s perspective, the play was a little prescient and a lot creepy.
In director Michael Leeds’ well-staged new production at Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, neither the play’s focal family nor its driving crisis is any more tolerable than they were in 1996 when the late producer Brian C. Smith presented Twilight of the Golds twice at his now-defunct Off-Broadway Theatre in Wilton Manors. It’s tough to root for or empathize with anyone in the play, except for gay brother David Gold (James Hesse), a Metropolitan Opera scenic painter who sees parallels between his family’s fate and Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
The other Golds? They’re a heavily stereotypical, judgmental, unlikeable bunch, though son-in-law Rob Stein (Jeffrey Scott Leshansky) is sometimes pitiable as the outsider in this imploding nuclear family.
Here’s the setup: Rob, a doctor-turned-researcher, and Suzanne Gold-Stein (Sarah Miller) are celebrating their third anniversary -- with, as usual, all the other Golds. David arrives at their Manhattan digs bearing yet another opera CD, which the beyond-disinterested Suzanne will toss unto an ever-growing pile of unopened Broadway and classical recordings. Dad Walter (Larry Kent Bramble) and mom Phyllis (Phyllis Spear) drive in from the ‘burbs, blustering and fussing and prying into their grown kids’ business.
Spoiled Suzanne, who gave up the idea of med school for a career in fashion because all that studying would have required too much work, has an announcement: She’s expecting. Everyone is over the moon, though Rob is justifiably perturbed that his wife didn’t think she should share the news with him first. She explains that she thought it would be more fun to tell everyone at once. Can you say infantilized?
The wrinkle in Tolins’ script is that the still-experimental genetic testing at Rob’s firm can reveal many things about an unborn baby, including its future sexual orientation. The couple goes for it and discovers that their baby boy is perfect in every way. And that he is most likely going to be gay. So they and Suzanne’s parents (of course) go through an excruciating debate about whether to terminate the pregnancy, to David’s understandable horror. In the course of trying to persuade Suzanne to have the baby, David learns of his parents’ true attitudes toward him. Tragedy ensues, and a family is shattered.
Understand, Stage Door’s production is well executed, with good scenic design and sound by David Torres, lighting by Ardean Landhis and costumes by Peter Lovello. The actors fully commit to their characters, warts and all, and the charismatic Hesse persuasively delivers the playwright’s point of view.
But Twilight of the Golds is no Normal Heart or Angels in America. Yes, it’s true that hatred and homophobia still exist, despite so much progress in the two decades since Tolins’ play debuted. But this is one play that cries out to be buried, not revived.