If you can overcome your impatience, Act 2 of The Twilight of the Golds offers a theatrical experience that's emotionally and intellectually satisfying. It begins with the news that Suzanne Gold-Stein is carrying a child who, according to a new medical test, will almost certainly be gay. Suzanne's mother Phyllis breaks the news to her gay son David (Suzanne's brother) and adds that Suzanne is thinking of aborting the child. David is aghast: Can his own sister be so homophobic as to blot out this new life just because it might be gay?
And if his parents go so far as to support the abortion, doesn't that mean that they also wish that he, David, had never been born? David's father Walter walks into the house and the discussion gets more heated. If Walter had known that David would be gay, would he have insisted that his unborn son be aborted? Walter does his best to evade the question, but David is relentless. And finally Walter snaps. "If you want to know what I really feel, I'll tell you," he says. "I think you're sick and diseased and if there were a cure, I'd want you cured. That's how I feel. And even though your mother may refuse to admit it, she feels the same way."
Then Walter begins to backtrack: "Still, it doesn't change anything. You're our only son and we love you. We love you very much, David, always have and always will."
But the damage is done: David now sees the decision about the fate of Suzanne's child as a vote for his own life or death. He goes to his sister's house to plead for the child. Being a Wagner aficionado, he compares the baby to the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde in the Ring, the son who will turn out to be the hero Siegfried.
What eventually happens to Siegfried? Suzanne asks.
He's murdered, says David.
"So Sieglinde went through all that pain for nothing," says a wavering Suzanne. "The world destroyed him. I don't want that to happen to my child."
"Then change the world," says David.
But it's not at all clear that Suzanne is willing to try.
Anyway, that's Act 2, and it's suspenseful and dramatic and, when David is speaking, eloquent. Act 1, on the other hand, is a slow-moving bore. In it we meet the Golds and the Steins, learn that David paints scenery at the Metropolitan Opera and that Suzanne is a buyer for Bloomingdales married to a doctor, Rob, whose company specializes in biotechnology.
We also meet the two older Golds, Phyllis and Walter, who are joining their children in order to celebrate Suzanne and Rob's third anniversary. Though author Jonathan Tolins avoids many Jewish-parent clichés in these early sections, he still hasn't found a way to make these people interesting. In fact, the only really fascinating parts of Act 1 are David's spellbound descriptions of scenes from the Ring, the series of operas with which he is gladly obsessed.
David is particularly conscious of the ending of the great tetralogy, in which a whole world is destroyed in preparation for a rebirth. By the end of Twilight, we understand why he cares so much: He sees the world in which he lives, the one where prejudice against gays is a fact of life, as a mere phase before the renaissance in which bigotry will die and people will love one another without fear. The world's hatred, he suggests, is just like the magic fire that surrounds Brünnhilde in the Ring: fraudulent, incapable of keeping Siegfried from being born. Twilight of the Golds has its somber moments, but it's ultimately hopeful. And the constant allusions to the Ring are far from gratuitous.
Unfortunately, the acting in the current version by Gypsy Productions is not very impressive. There is one major exception, and that's Daniel Harris, who plays David Gold with enormous brio and, when necessary, great passion. Harris' David is in love with life, in love with opera and even tickled by his bottom-level job at the Met. He's as thick-skinned about his homosexuality as about his infatuation with Wagner: If others don't sympathize, well, one day they'll come along.
As his mother, Carolyn Zaput does her level best, but she's about as Jewish as Reba McEntire, and misses all the inflections and nuances that might convince us she actually saw her son Bar Mitzvahed or knows gefilte fish from fried clams.
As sister Suzanne, Sara Wilemon turns in merely adequate work: At moments of high emotion, she's believable enough, but the rest of the time we don't really know who she is, how deep or shallow, how simple or complicated. Brad Minus as her husband isn't much better — he's all surface, offering us nothing to think about or scrutinize. And David Hershman as Walter Gold seems uncomfortable on stage, as if he's hiding his personality from the other characters, from the audience, perhaps from himself. He certainly never appears really married to Zaput's Phyllis, and we can't even be sure when he claims ambivalence about his son's gayness.
Director Brick does a good job of moving the actors around the small Suncoast Theatre stage, but Trevor Keller's set design, ostensibly of an upscale doctor's living room, looks instead like a moderately priced motel room on St. Pete Beach. Keller and Daryl Epperly's costumes are at least tolerable.
Still, that second act is so powerful that it helps us ignore the sub-par acting and mediocre design, and has us focusing intently on the play and its implications. Will Suzanne choose to have her baby, thus assuring David that his own existence is validated? Or will she choose to abort, with all that it means to her gay brother?
Don't be put off by the Wagnerian title of the show. This is a play that should be of interest to anyone concerned about relations between gays and straights. Even with some occasional gags, it's serious work. And its ending brings all themes together with real beauty.
It's a pity that the Gypsy production isn't better. But even so, The Twilight of the Golds is worth seeing.