KPBS AIRDATE: March 10, 1993
David Gold is obsessed with a pimply little anti-Semite: Richard Wagner, the long-dead opera composer. David is the lead character in “Twilight of the Golds,” a brand-new contemporary play by Jonathan Tolins. The title is a spinoff of Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung,” “The Twilight of the Gods.” Wagner’s music weaves through the play, as David draws parallels between the larger-than-life Wagnerian Ring Cycle and the family drama unfolding onstage.
To David, who works at the Met, everything is an opera. Wagner’s gods and goddesses decided the fate of the world in domestic squabbles. And the Golds do the same in Poway, in this thoroughly professional co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse.
Everyone’s being very circumspect about the issues raised in the play. But I don’t think it’s such a big godawful secret. And I don’t choose to honor the conspiracy of silence. There are major questions raised here — about genetic engineering, homophobia and unconditional love. The playwright calls it a work of science fiction. But it’s eerily close to the present. And the family issues are eerily close to home.
Without knowledge of the critical plot complication, you might choose not to go see this play. And that would be a big mistake. You might think it’s just another Jewish sitcom. And at first, it seems very much like that. There’s a smothering mother, an affable father, a daughter and a son, a number of references to TV shows and personalities, and a great many very good laughs.
But the twists make the piece dark and disquieting. Son David is gay. Son-in-law Rob works on genetic engineering. Daughter Suzanne is pregnant. Through the wonders of high technology and the human genome project, she finds out, via very early amniocentesis, that her baby is a boy, left handed, quite intelligent — and homosexual. Having seen all the agony her parents have gone through with David, should Suzanne keep the baby? Her brother makes a strong argument: “I’m fighting for my life,” he says. “If only it were deformed,” moans Suzanne, “it wouldn’t be so complex.”
Tolins has crafted a taut, funny, exceedingly poignant and thought-provoking piece of theater. There may be one too many long soliloquies, but this is a play with teeth, and the bite-marks don’t heal overnight.
Tom Alderman directs with a keen eye on drama, and no penchant for melodrama. The cast is superb, especially Raphael Sbarge as David and Judith Scarpone as his mother. You believe this family, and your guts churn for them. There’s a ‘What would I do?’ moment for everyone here.
The Big Questions are raised within John Iacovelli’s dynamic set. The rear wall of the yuppie Manhattan apartment quickly falls away to reveal the steep, jagged cliffs of Germany, and all across the expansive sky, dramatic lighting projections call up the Rhine, the Ring of Fire and the dawn of a new age.
Something deep and meaningful and disturbing is happening onstage. If you’re a thinking theatergoer, you need to experience it.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.