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March 18th-April 9th 2005
If your parents knew everything about you before you were born, would you be here? That is the question posed in this topical drama. All is well when Suzanne Gold and her close New York family discover that she is pregnant, until a prenatal test reveals that the baby will most likely be homosexual. The news forces the entire Gold family to confront issues of bigotry, evolution and the limits of love.
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Writer: Jonathan Tolins. Director: Rosina Reynolds. Sets: David Weiner. Lighting: Jeff Fightmaster. Costumes: Shulamit Nelson. Sound: Jonathan Allen.
[tab title=”Cast”]Matthew Weeden, Amanda Sitton, Joshua Harrell, Glynn Bedington, Fred Moramarco.
San Diego Union-Tribune
‘Twilight’ deftly strikes balance
By James Hebert
March 20, 2006
Despite its title’s intimations of fading brightness, “The Twilight of the Golds” is as much about the dawn as about the dark.
It’s a cold, foreboding dawn, though – the light rising on a new age of genetic science, and its potential to alter what it means to be human.
The play, getting a visually rich staging at Diversionary Theatre, focuses on a notion that seems a lot less fanciful now than when Jonathan Tolins wrote it in 1993: What if a person could be genetically identified as homosexual before birth?
That’s the issue that threatens to tear apart the extended Gold family. When they discover that their soon-to-be newest member has a 90 percent chance of being gay, conflicts flare, prejudices erupt and twilight arrives with all the swiftness of an eclipse.
For all the play’s bleak emotional terrain, though, it’s also surprisingly funny, as a portrait of a lovable but confused Jewish family trying to confront a brave new world with their same old habits of benign ignorance and awkward affection.
The balance is not an easy one to strike, but the director, Rosina Reynolds, and her cast do so deftly, for the most part. What’s a bit harder to surmount is the play’s overarching feel of talkiness. Each of the characters gets a monologue during the course of the two-act, two-hour “Twilight,” and while these are illuminating, even poetic, the action of the play tends to plod.
The emotional center is David (Matthew Weeden), the opera-loving son of Phyllis and Walter Gold (Glynn Bedington and Fred Moramarco). He compares the family’s saga to the travails of the gods and heroes in Wagner’s epic “Ring” cycle. (The play’s title puns off the final opera in the trilogy, “Twilight of the Gods.”)
Weeden could hardly be better as the wry, passionate David: He overcomes the character’s stereotypes to deliver a richly engaging portrait of a man who loves his family enough not to let them get away with catering to their most base impulses.
As his sister, Suzanne, Amanda Sitton is also very affecting, and there’s a genuine feel of sibling connection between her and Weeden. It’s a bond that grows achingly strained when Suzanne and her husband, Rob (a fine, reserved Joshua Harrell), learn she is pregnant.
Rob works for a biotech company that’s perfecting new tests to pinpoint genetic tendencies before birth. Suzanne takes the test, and Rob delivers the news: Their baby boy probably will be “like David.”
The news causes surprising undercurrents of ugliness to surface – even Suzanne, in supreme agony over whether to terminate the pregnancy, blurts out: “If only it were deformed.”
David Weiner’s beautifully realized set, teamed with Jeff Fightmaster’s dramatic lighting, periodically transforms an Ikea-contemporary living room into a soaring Wagnerian tableau. There, the Golds become gods – or more to the point, learn there’s a price for trying to play God.
Writer: Jonathan Tolins. Director: Rosina Reynolds. Sets: David Weiner. Lighting: Jeff Fightmaster. Costumes: Shulamit Nelson. Sound: Jonathan Allen. Cast: Matthew Weeden, Amanda Sitton, Joshua Harrell, Glynn Bedington, Fred Moramarco.
San Diego Reader
March 23, 2006
by Jeff Smith
Rob Stein’s biotech company can identify genetic predispositions. His wife, Suzanne, becomes pregnant. Why not check for danger signs? When they do, in Jonathan Tolins’ comedy-drama, they find that the fetus, a left-handed boy, might be gay. What they should do about “that trait” unravels the Golds, Suzanne’s allegedly liberal family. Though one could wish that Tolins had written thicker characters, Twilight raises major issues about a future fast upon us. And though Diversionary Theatre hasn’t solved all the script problems (including Tolins’ sitcom urge to leaven too many dramatic moments with jokes), Rosina Reynold’s deft direction rebalances the play’s emphases and humanizes stereotypes. It also raises another question: where did Matthew Weeden come from? A new face, he’s terrific as young David Gold, the gay son forced to reject his family. With sharp comic timing and emotional range, Weeden takes the stage with the assurance of a vet. As does Amanda Sitton as hyper Suzanne who, for once, won’t go the “easy way.” Overall, the acting’s uneven, especially the cameos, but Glynn Beddington’s, as the mother who will “say nothing,” is a heart-grabber. David Weiner’s epic-minimalist set includes Wagnerian mountains and Brunhilde’s flames (and roiling waters when Jeff Fightmaster’s lights turn blue-gray). Twilight premiered in 1993. Its dated topical references make it a period piece, but its ethical questions are right this minute.
Rating: Worth a try.
Curtain Calls on San Diego Theatre Scene
By Pat Launer
March 24, 2006
THE SHOW: The Twilight of the Golds, the provocative, semi-futuristic comic drama by Jonathan Tolins
THE BACKSTORY/ THE STORY: When Jonathan Tolins wrote and set the play, in 1993, young, talented New Yorkers were dying in droves (it was the height of the U.S. AIDS epidemic). Perhaps the rawness of the story, the fact that it was too close to the bone, gave it a surprisingly short run in The Big Apple. I was blown away when I first saw it at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts (a co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse) in 1993 and again at Sweetooth Theatre (with George Flint as the dismissive, deluded father) in 1996. It was a frightening and inflammatory premise: What if it could be determined in utero that a baby was going to be born homosexual? How much can we/should we play God? How far should genetic engineering go? How deeply ingrained is homophobia? Family loyalty? Unconditional love? And where do we draw the lines?
David Gold, a set-designer-in-training, sees life as opera. He is gay, and he’s fighting for his life. If his sister Suzanne and her geneticist husband decide to terminate the pregnancy on the basis of the information they’ve just received, they are in effect obliterating him, erasing his life. David repeatedly draws parallels between the final opera in Richard Wagner’s mythical, larger-than-life ‘Ring Cycle’ — “Gotterdammerung,” The Twilight of the Gods – and the traumatic plight of his neurotic Jewish family as it struggles and dissolves. In The Twilight of the Gods, the fate of the gods hangs in the balance; ultimately, the opera chronicles the end of the world as it was. David is hyperbolic, didactic, cynical and emotional (and also very funny). But big things are at stake here, and the results are tragic.
THE PLAYERS/ THE PRODUCTION: Director Rosina Reynolds is in firm command of the play. But the piece itself gets in the way. Structured like an opera, the ‘arias’ – monologues wherein each family member steps forward, talks to the audience directly and presents his/her side of the unfolding events – get tiresome and repetitive. Too much is spelled out; little is left to the audience imagination. But the issues inherent in the text offer a great deal for the viewer to ponder, and the blistering ‘What Would I Do?’ questions are inevitable. Despite its structural flaws, the play is certainly worth seeing, the ideas are well worth contemplating. With Human Genome mapping complete, we are on the cusp of a New World Order, and we’d all do well to think long and hard about what we’re getting ourselves into.
Onstage at Diversionary, Matt Weeden, a talented graduate of the SDSU MFA program in musical theater, anchors the piece with a witty, compelling and touching performance. He interacts perfectly with Amanda Sitton, who plays his sister, a spoiled, materialistic, underemployed and ultimately confused princess to a T. Their sib scenes are marvels of credibility, the strongest in the production. Joshua Harrell makes Suzanne’s husband neither a villain nor a geek, but a straightforward straight-arrow whose biases are buried beneath his unquestioned faith in the power of science. The parents are a little trickier, written very Jewish (on opening night, playwright Tolins, who hadn’t seen the play in years, chafed at the local newspaper reference to ‘stereotypes’: “if you think these are stereotypes,” he said, “you haven’t met my family!”). They are definitely familiar to this Long Islander, too. Glynn Bedington, a highly competent actor, is just trying too hard with the Noo Yawk dialect, slowing down her speech to a crawl, dragging out every whiny syllable. She nails the manner and mannerisms, but not the speech patterns, and her efforts feel strained and unnatural. Fred Moramarco is more believable, but he was a little shaky on lines on opening night, and hadn’t yet mined the depths of the food- and money-obsessed man beneath the hunger and avoidance.
David Weiner’s set is too minimalist for a yuppified “Ikea-decorated” Manhattan apartment and the Wagnerian ‘ring of fire’ on the back wall, though effectively lit (Jeff Fightmaster), seems a tad cartoonish. Shulamit Nelson’s costumes are excellent for everyone except David; a 1990s opera queen who works at the Met should be dressed far more hiply in town, and that ‘off-duty’ lumberjack look was way off base.
So there are some quibbles with the production and the play. But, for its searing, frighteningly timely moral dilemmas, and some wonderful performances, it definitely should be seen.
THE LOCATION: Diversionary Theatre, through April 1.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
San Diego Union-Tribune
13 years later, ‘Twilight’ is aglow with prescience
By Jennifer Chung
March 17, 2006
Three years before a sheep named Dolly would achieve fame as the first cloned mammal, and several years before the human genome was mapped, Jonathan Tolins’ “Twilight of the Golds” took a prescient look at the ethical issues surrounding such scientific developments. The play asks the question: If your parents knew everything about you before you were born, would you still be here?
Twilight of the Golds” premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse in January 1993 and was produced a few months later at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts. Tolins’ debut play was well received on the West Coast, but when it landed on Broadway late in the same year, it closed after just 29 performances.
Fast-forward 13 years to the play’s return to San Diego at Diversionary Theatre.
Scientists have decoded our genetic blueprint. Prenatal genetic screening is commonplace. And a recent study published in the journal Human Genetics suggests a link between a mother’s genes and the sexual orientation of her son, strengthening the theory that so-called “gay genes” may exist.
Set in New York City in 1993, “Twilight of the Golds” portrays the lives of a middle-class Jewish family. New advances lead mother-to-be Suzanne to discover that her unborn son has a 90 percent chance of being gay. She is faced with a heart-wrenching choice. Compounding matters is her outspoken gay brother, David, who feels as though he’s battling for his own life.
To help the Diversionary cast understand the play’s context, director Rosina Reynolds brought in various experts to discuss Jewish culture, opera and gay culture in New York in the early ’90s.
In some respects, it’s very much set in the period that it was written,” said Reynolds. “That’s very important, because I think we’ve already, if not forgotten, pushed to the back of our minds how frightening the early ’90s were.”
Nearly a decade of deaths from AIDS created a funereal atmosphere among the gay community in New York. The AIDS crisis also sparked fears outside the gay community, which led to discrimination and harassment.
New York during that time was a lot different than it is now, especially dealing with the AIDS crisis,” said Matthew Weeden, who plays David. “The gay community and also the arts community were highly affected. There was a different energy in the city at the time, and I think it’s very important for my character to be going and coming to all these funerals. You start tallying up the deaths of friends, and it takes a toll on a person.”
Layered atop the era’s mood of fear and uncertainty is the importance of lineage to Jewish culture. For a race that has suffered attempted genocide and genetic experimentation, the continuance of family names becomes more important, especially in honor of those who have died, said Reynolds.
At the heart of the play is the possibility that unraveling the genetics of homosexuality would lead to genetic engineering to prevent it.
Would terminating the pregnancy save Suzanne’s child from a lifetime of persecution and discrimination? Wasn’t a similar argument once used to dissuade interracial marriages? Who’s really being spared?
We need to be reminded, to be told again, how we’re getting too comfortable playing God,” said Reynolds. “Sometimes we need to let life take its course. There’s an inevitability worked into certain things we decide to do that we have no control over.”
The bottom line, especially for my character, is the issue of unconditional love,” Weeden said.
The title is a play on “Twilight of the Gods,” the final opera in Richard Wagner’s four-part “The Ring of the Nibelung.” The sweeping, 15-hour epic and its score figure prominently, forming the play’s emotional backbone.
David, a set designer at the Metropolitan Opera, is obsessed with the Ring Cycle. The opera describes the destruction of a decadent and corrupt world by a family of spiteful, quarreling gods. As David puts it: “The Gold family had domestic squabbles and conversations, and we also decided the fate of the world. You’ll see.”
The metaphor, said Weeden, is multilayered. “There are a lot of interesting parallels going on,” he said. “In the story, the gods give up on humanity because we’ve become corrupt and lazy. I think that’s very topical, especially in today’s society. We want the easy way out; we’re a drive-through-obsessed society. We want less time and easier situations.”
The play has sometimes been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes: the over-involved Jewish mother, the opera-loving gay son, the Jewish American princess.
Glynn Bedington, who plays the family matriarch, admitted she had a similar reaction upon reading the script. But the story unfolds through David’s eyes in what is essentially a memory play, she said. The vision of these characters is perhaps incomplete, a means to recognize and cope with his family.
My challenge has been to play the Jewish mother – to play one that is stereotypical enough that you really recognize her, but not so stereotypical that you’re not listening to her. She’s funny, she’s broken, she’s damaged. She’s got to be able to be all those things.”
The play seems to have struck a personal note for cast members, who also have pondered some of the play’s central themes. A recurring question throughout the play is: What would you do?
Weeden considered posing the question to his own mother, but ultimately decided against it.
I don’t know if I’d want to put my mom through that,” he said.
But for a play to ask the questions is significant.
I’m so excited to do this play for this audience because it’s a journey that all gay people go through – this journey of self-discovery, acceptance and just wanting to be loved by family, knowing there’s nothing you can do about who you are. It’s something we’ve all been through,” said Weeden. “For a lot of the Diversionary audience, it’s going to be quite moving to go back down that road, to look back at where they were, when they were young and dealing with that with family.”
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