Lesser lights

There are many reasons why Jonathan Tolins' The Twilight of the Golds should become obsolete in just a few short years--or so you think as the Dallas premiere by Littlefinger Productions unfurls in front of you. Unfortunately, this problem plagues many scripts concerning contemporary gay themes, because as the gay rights movement rolls and shudders toward a greater sympathy with mainstream America, changes are happening faster than a CNN satellite feed.

Tom Sime, theater critic for KERA 90.1, recently complained in a commentary about Dallas Theater Center's just-closed Perestroika that Tony Kushner's script was too obsessed with a bygone era--specifically, the dawn of AIDS and the Reagan Administration. The implication was that, in a world where protease inhibitors offer unprecedented hope and Democrats and Republicans have revealed themselves to be Siamese twins, Kushner's leftist rage felt quaint, toothless, even archaic.

Although I disagree with Sime about Kushner's Angels in America plays, I harbored similar thoughts through the first half of Twilight of the Golds, a precocious, occasionally pat exploration of an upper-middle-class Jewish couple who agonize over the decision to abort their first child after they discover, via a genetically sophisticated new version of amniocentesis, that the fetus will, in all likelihood, be homosexual.

In terms of medical developments, of course, the imagination of Jonathan Tolins toils wholly in the future, albeit a not too distant one, if you believe what many genetic researchers insist is a foregone conclusion--a gay gene will be isolated and identified, and moreover, will face the moral litmus test of geneticists who will very soon have the power to eliminate those traits deemed socially undesirable.

I have always doubted that homosexuality--or human sexuality in general--is solely a product of nature. This explanation has been hard-sold in the American marketplace of ideas by gays and lesbians who are exhausted from the daily toll of nonconformism. It has also been eagerly consumed by liberals who are generally uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality but happy to accept a controversial style of human behavior when accompanied with the disclaimer But they can't help it... A fundamental explanation on the cellular level keeps gays and lesbians at a manageable arm's length.

The ultimate beauty of The Twilight of the Golds--the facet that lets it avoid the philosophical brick walls hit by other scripts with a TV-movie-of-the-week crisis at their center--is that you can disagree with the central premise and still feel the force of Jonathan Tolins' message. This play is only nominally concerned with gay genes and Simon LeVay's tiny hypothalami. The real purpose of The Twlight of the Golds is to cut through heterosexual liberal hypocrisy and desperate homosexual self-deceit to a reality that neither side wants to confront: that even the most tolerant and open-minded of straight sympathizers seems to think a same-sex orientation is an aberration of human sexuality, not just another expression of it.

Unfortunately, when handed such explosive theatrical material on a silver platter, Littlefinger Productions can't keep the fuse lit. As directed by Rene Moreno and performed by a cast of uninspired actors--with one important exception--The Twilight of the Golds too often emphasizes the one-dimensional pro vs. con aspect of the script at the expense of the play's more scintillating implications about the limits of family affection.

Suzanne (Linda Marie Ford) and Rob (Emory Rose) are the kind of well-meaning, if slightly shallow, upscale couple who can't stop talking about Rob's cutting-edge work with a private genetic research firm. Rob should have been thrilled at the announcement of his wife's eagerly anticipated pregnancy, except that she chose to tell him in front of her family--boisterous father Walter (H. Francis Fuselier), fretful mother Phyllis (Barbara Bierbrier), and flamboyant brother David (Brandon T. Miller), who is clearly the fifth wheel in this contraption. He's a squeaky one, too, at times brandishing his homosexuality loudly and defensively against the expressions of benevolence anxiously maintained by his family.

All masks are dropped, however, when Suzanne submits to a new procedure designed to detect congenital diseases and other abnormalities in her unborn child. The kid turns out to be perfectly normal: "Ten fingers and ten toes?" Suzanne asks fearfully. "Ten fingers and ten toes," confirms Rob. But there's one hitch--a 90 percent chance he will turn out "the way David is," as Rob characterizes it, unable even to say the word "gay" when it applies to his unborn son. When David gets wind that the prospective parents are considering an abortion, he initiates a fracas that might best be described as civil war.

I have seen various cast members in this production of The Twilight of the Golds excel in other area shows, so I have to chalk up much of the play's curious lethargy and occasional clumsiness to director Rene Moreno. The stage director is only present in body to support the actors during rehearsals, when he must help all performers understand how and why they relate to each other as the script dictates. I can only assume that Moreno took a look at the hot-potato subject matter in Jonathan Tolins' script and assumed that audiences would pony up their attention on that strength alone. It's difficult not to hold a strong opinion on issues as deeply personal as these, but under Moreno's direction, the actors rarely transcend "issues" to establish a higher emotional truth. Barbara Bierbrier makes an effective cloying Jewish mother without careening into strident stereotype, but as the father and husband, respectively, H. Francis Fuselier and Emory Rose offer frustratingly scant evidence of an emotional connection to the bullheaded stands their characters take. In contrast, Linda Marie Ford as the dithery Suzanne appears to be a mound of nervous affectations and incomplete emotions. As written, her character is supposed to have no backbone--she's an adult in search of an identity, a woman under pressure to please her domineering parents. And although Ford rides a storm of conflicted feelings, she never enters its eye to provide that moment of clarity that would solidify her presence onstage.

The best actor has, thankfully, assumed the pivotal role. Brandon T. Miller as the hostile, yearning David manages to annoy and to ingratiate himself at just the right moments. Personally, if I'd been a member of his family, I'd also have gotten fed up with his constant comparisons between everyday life and opera (David is a set designer for New York's Metropolitan Opera). Yet Miller as David, who is symbolically "fighting for his life," taps an undercurrent of fear and isolation well. His every repetitive gesture and reference feels hard-earned and necessary. Thanks to Miller, Jonathan Tolins' play rages against the twilight of family hypocrisy--and invites us all to examine the wide chasm between love and acceptance.

The Twilight of the Golds runs through December 7. Call 871-