Tolins Play Skirts Moral Dilemma

`Twilight of the Golds' misses opportunity to explore the ramifications of genetic testing

THE TWILIGHT OF THE GOLDS Play by Jonathan Tolins At the Booth Theatre.

GENETIC testing is an area ripe for misuse, and it is also a subject rife with dramatic possibilities. Jonathan Tolins's ``Twilight of the Golds,'' now on Broadway, attempts to deal with the moral dilemma of what to do with information gained through such testing. Unfortunately, it falls on its face.

The plot concerns a dysfunctional Jewish family, the Golds. Walter (David Groh) and Phyllis (Judith Scarpone) have raised two children: David (Raphael Sbarge), a homosexual opera fanatic eking out a living working on sets at the Met, and Suzanne (Jennifer Grey, of ``Dirty Dancing'' fame), happily married to Rob (Michael Spound).

At the beginning of the play, we learn that Suzanne is pregnant. The playwright posits that through a genetic test, the characters learn that the baby will be born with a 90 percent likelihood of being gay. A decision must be made about whether to go through with the birth.

Attempting a subject as provocative as this is a two-edged sword - the level of the writing must be high enough to match the audience's interest. Tolins fails right off in attempting to have it both ways stylistically; he starts the play like a situation comedy, filled with wisecracks about domineering mothers and opera queens, and then lurches into moralistic drama, complete with ``divine punishment.''

David's constant and pretentious allusions to Wagnerian opera, complete with booming music from the ``Ring'' cycle and the realistic living-room set making way for a barren, forbidding landscape doesn't help matters.

The situation naturally makes for family conflict, as David realizes, to his despair, that his family wishes he were not gay. Sbarge's intense performance makes us acutely aware of the character's pain, but we can already predict his position.

What would be more interesting is an exploration of the moral conflict that the prospective parents face - a subject that is barely addressed.

Suzanne comes across as a spoiled woman with barely a thought in her head, and her husband comes across as petulant and manipulative. The parents are just as unlikable. As it is, we don't learn the results of the testing until the end of Act I. Before that, we must endure interminable family squabbling.

Director Arvin Brown valiantly struggles to shepherd the audience through the play's emotional twists and turns, and he can certainly create powerful stage effects, but all for naught. ``The Twilight of the Golds'' (another allusion to Wagner) reveals an inexperienced director biting off more than he can chew.

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