Review: City Theatre Tackles a Nineties Relic

Solid performances can’t save The Twilight of the Golds from its datedness


The Twilight of the Golds cast (photo by Andy Berkovsky)

Often, art reflects a flashpoint in history, capturing the worries and concerns of an era. Sometimes those issues are eternal, tapping into universal fears. And sometimes it’s a quaint time capsule of a vastly different era. When relaunching any past work, we have to judge whether the capsule is worth reopening.

The Twilight of the Golds is one such time capsule. Jonathan Tolins’ script roots firmly in its 1993 debut. It was launched in the maelstrom of AIDS, 24-hour news cycles, and politicized culture wars. These are presented through the Gold family: siblings David (Jim Lindsay), Suzanne (Lindsay Palinsky), and their parents Phyllis (Jan Phillips) and Walter (Rick Felkins). When Suzanne announces her pregnancy at a family dinner, her husband Rob (Kirk Kelso) encourages her to try his company’s revolutionary new genetic testing, one that reveals far more information than the couple were prepared for. It sets the entire family into turmoil.

Listen, I can’t discuss the difficulties within the production without spoiling the testing reveal. Consider yourself warned. It’s worth knowing that the central dilemma – the one lighting the dormant fire of family resentments and fear – is the discovery that Suzanne and Rob’s baby will be like her brother David. Which is to say, gay. The script never says the word gay. But it’s there, and it’s the “struggle” that drives the drama.

Jonathan Tolins’ 30-year-old script never says the word gay. But it’s there, and it’s the “struggle” that drives the drama.

As a modern audience, it’s almost horrifying to see how the Golds react to the news of homosexuality. I’m not saying those reactions don’t still exist – we only need to look at the motivations behind the current spate of book bannings and anti-LGBTQ legislation to see how prejudice still pervades society. But this presentation, of a self-identifying liberal Jewish family so despondent that their future boy would love other men, is harder to take. At least for the Austin theatregoing audience, that conflict may seem a non-issue.

This is a huge hurdle to clear when launching a current production of The Twilight of the Golds. Let’s put it this way: When it was turned into a TV movie four years after its stage debut (starring a baby Brendan Fraser as David), central plot points were already changed to fit an advancing culture.

It’s a pickle, but one Austin’s City Theatre tackles gamely, if not always successfully. They hold to the original script, working to present the issues just as Tolins wrote them. The set places the viewer firmly in the Nineties with basic furniture and glimpses of CD cases. Their faithfulness also includes other distinctly Nineties trends, like dropping the hard “R” in reference to mental disabilities, or lightly disparaging therapy.

Even with those modern concerns, the play itself isn’t without value. The writing, though dated, is full of warmth. The Golds are a lived-in family, recognizable with their quick jokes and quicker resentments. Lindsay and Palinsky play the sibling relationship with natural rapport, convincingly needling each other.

There are some startling, pure emotional moments. Most of those highlights occur during fourth-wall-breaking addresses from each character, like when Walter’s tirade on the softness of the new generation reveals a tender core of frustration that he can’t connect with his children. It’s a potent reminder of the familial divide. Felkins imbues pure helplessness into this moment, with quavering voice and near-tears that pull at heartstrings.

The other monologues also offer interesting themes to dwell on – reflecting on a life that went differently than you thought, disappointing your parents, and even an oddly prescient musing from Phyllis Gold on emotional numbness during the information age. Her desire to shut off the torrent of bad news is the epitome of cheery ignorance, the privilege that comes with never having to directly deal with anything negative.

Throughout the play, David, an opera set designer, references Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and he discusses how the fall of the Nordic gods mirrors his own family unit. In Wagner, there’s hope in the final acts of Brunhilde and Siegfried. The Twilight of the Golds also tackles the end of an era, wondering if that hope is actually possible. Watching this over 30 years down the road, it’s easy to see how things have changed. Has the hope come to fruition? Regardless, it’s fertile ground for discussion. You won’t leave City Theatre without something to say.

The Twilight of the Golds

City Theatre

Through February 25

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Twilight of the Gods, City Theatre

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