Roll back the clock 20 years: Bill Clinton has just been elected president. IBM posts a $4.97 billion single year loss, the largest ever. Lorena Bobbitt is arrested—and acquitted—for cutting off her husband’s penis. Schindler’s List wins Best Picture and Angels in America is the Best Play on Broadway.
The AIDS crisis is at its height. Shocking pictures of Rock Hudson, Rudolf Nureyev and Arthur Ashe are plastered across the covers of supermarket tabloids. No one is quite certain how the disease is contracted and spread, but it’s a guaranteed death sentence. And, National Institutes of Health researcher Dean Hamer is about to suggest the existence of a “gay gene,” the desperately sought link in the gripping nature vs. nurture debate about the cause of homosexuality.
All of these realities collide with the lives of the Gold family, an affluent Jewish family, in Jonathan Tollins’ drama, The Twilight of the Golds, playing through Oct. 27 at Broward Stage Door in Coral Springs and then transferring to the Byron Carlyle in Miami Beach.
Parents Phyllis and Walter (Phyllis Spear and Larry Kent Bramble) like to think of themselves as progressive, after all they love their gay son, David (James Hesse), a flamboyant set designer at the Metropolitan Opera, despite his lifestyle “choice.” Spoiled daughter Suzanne (Sarah Miller) an admitted underachiever—she quit medical school because she despised tests and now is a buyer at Blomingdale’s—and son-in-law David (Jeffrey Scott Leshansky), a researcher at a biomedical company, are celebrating their third anniversary.
All seems just fine as the family gathers to celebrate the event, until Suzanne surprises all with the news she is pregnant. Joy quickly turns to painful conflict as a genetic test administered at David’s employer reveals the presence of the “gay gene.” Personal demons the family repressed over the years are suddenly revealed, as the couple openly contemplates an abortion.
Parents admit they wished their son had been normal, a sister expresses fear for the happiness and safety of her unborn child, and the father-to-be is the most visibly unnerved at the prospect of a gay son. David likens the very notion they would entertain such thoughts to the eugenics experiments of the Nazis and even the desire to kill him.
Even in 2013, in the midst of an era of gay civil rights, growing societal acceptance and marriage equality, this would still be a heart-wrenching dilemma for many expectant parents, even the ones who think they’re liberal.
Indeed, Tolins’ script successfully raises these questions, but unfortunately, it lumbers along, especially during the first act, and creates, at best, an unflattering picture of a two-dimensional family that would stunt the healthy development of even a “perfect” heterosexual child.
Further, the cast—with the exception of the charismatic Hesse, who benefits from Tolins’ most fully developed character—lacks any convincing depth or onstage chemistry. However, each of the actors, under the direction of Broadway veteran Michael Leeds, shines best in their turns at monologues meant to express the deep anguish each feels with his or her situation.
Lighting by Ardean Landhuis and sound design by Stage Door co-founder David Torres effectively service Tolins’ overuse of operatic metaphors and foreshadowing throughout the play and Torres’ IKEA-inspired set creates a suitable setting for this period play.
Despite some shortcomings in this production, the moral questions pervade, as evidenced by the lively intermission discussion of several older women sitting in front of me: What would you do? Did you know (our friend) has a gay son? She insists he hasn’t met the right woman and he’s nearly 50 years old! I guess I’m not as liberal as I thought. Times have certainly changed….
Just how much have times really changed? That’s exactly the question you’ll be asking yourself on the ride home after seeing The Twilight of the Golds.
If You Go:
The Twilight of the Golds
By Jonathan Tolins
Friday – Saturday, 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, 2 p.m.
Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Coral Springs, through Oct. 27
Miami Beach Stage Door at Byron Carlyle Theatre, 500 71st St., Miami Beach, Nov. 22 – Dec. 15
Tickets $38 at StageDoorTheatre.org