note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Caroline Burlingham Ellis
Special to Theater Mirror
The Twilight of the Golds,” now at the Vokes Theatre, is about the reaction of a family, the Golds, to a prenatal test indicating a baby will be gay. If you are OK with the idea that such a test existed in the 1990s or will ever exist or that homosexuality is all about genetics, you can move on to the genetic-engineering issues that the play explores.
The title refers to “The Twilight of the Gods” from Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The play’s chief narrator, David Gold (Brett Marks), compares his family’s story to the god Wotan’s -- as music from the opera swells. Like Bugs Bunny’s “What’s Opera, Doc?” on YouTube, David’s comparisons produce humor while demonstrating that mythological themes exist in the mundane. When David introduces his family as he sees them -- in Viking headgear, sitting stiffly between fiery mountains and a middle class living room -- he draws a big laugh. Unlike the creators of the cartoon, however, playwright Jonathan Tolins lets the comparisons become pretentious.
The Vokes production, directed by James Barton, is described in the publicity as a “situation where nobody is clearly right or wrong.” The five actors, who take turns narrating, work hard to present each character’s perspective. But the script itself defeats any goal of impartiality: The characters who come down on the side of not bringing a gay child into the world all get punished.
The drama’s angst is pretty thick, but there are numerous touches of humor. As the play opens, we find Suzanne (Rachel D. Fahrig) and her husband Rob (Bill Stambaugh) waiting for Suzanne’s parents and her gay brother (David) to join them in celebrating an anniversary. They are fussing around their all-Ikea living room, setting out Rob’s Lipton dip and a cheese plate. Suzanne is put out that they don’t have a proper cheese slicer -- a knife is “very low class.”
Suzanne’s mother arrives first (Deanna Swan as Phyllis), then her father (Robert Zawistowski as Walter), then David. They are a close family, too close for Suzanne’s husband, who believes that “you should reject your family before they reject you.” Phyllis is often the butt of jokes (“Mother, behave, or we’ll put you in a home”). But her family loves her, despite the goofy things she says -- for example, when she wonders whether her son is gay because she took his “temperature that way.”
Suzanne has held off announcing that she is three months pregnant, not even telling her husband until her family is present. Soon the resentful Rob, who works for a company that does prenatal testing for Down syndrome and fatal diseases, suggests that Suzanne be tested. She learns she is carrying a boy who is “like David.” Suzanne is stunned. She asks whether nurture can overcome nature, but Rob thinks not, “judging by how clearly it shows up in the statistical evidence.” Here the audience should ignore that implausibility and focus on the family dynamics.
After a mental struggle, Suzanne decides she is not strong enough to raise a gay child and should have an abortion. David says that if his sister aborts a gay baby, it is the same as killing her brother. Meanwhile, he makes his devoted but confused parents confess that if there had been a genetic test when he was in utero, they might have made the same choice as Suzanne.
With passionate analogies to the Ring Cycle, David persuades Suzanne to keep the baby. But she reverts to the idea of an abortion when the pregnancy is farther along. A botched procedure thoroughly punishes her, her parents , and her husband. David decides never to speak to them again -- a decision the playwright presents as mature and intelligent.
Some playgoers may find “The Twilight of the Golds” heavy-going and its “scientific evidence” too fanciful; others will find it thought-provoking. It asks the question, “Why force someone into an unhappy existence?” Whether one believes, like David, that genetic testing is Nazi eugenics or, like the other characters, that some people may be better off not being born, life is probably too mysterious for anyone to predict who will be happy.
Tara Stepanian produced “The Twilight of the Golds.” Director Barton designed the set, D Schweppe the exquisite lighting, Eileen Bouvier the costumes, and John Chiachiaretta the sound.
“The Twilight of the Golds” runs through May 19. For further information, go to http://www.vokesplayers.org or call (508) 358-4034.