Review: Twilight of the Golds at Theatre Within

Fountain Square’s Theatre Within, located in the liberal Church Within, continually strives to offer new plays from modern American playwrights. The latest offering at Theatre Within, Twilight of the Golds, deals with two extremely challenging subject matters: homosexuality and abortion. Challenging is a good word to describe what the Theatre Within does for Indianapolis culture and Indianapolis art. It challenges our thinking with the presentation of stories that wouldn’t normally be found on stage in the Circle City anywhere else but in Fountain Square’s Theatre Within or Mass Ave’s Phoenix Theatre. Each production on stage at the Church Within offers shading and detail that help to further define Theatre Within’s ideology and mission. As this Indianapolis theatre grows into itself, it expands its dialogue with its audience. Using dramaturgy, discussion and even an art installation that juxtaposes prejudicial slurs with human skin, the dialogue created around Twilight of the Golds is extremely rich.

My biggest beef with Theatre Within’s latest production was the script by Jonathan Tolins. Though believable family dynamics carry the action of the play, Tolins fails to hit climatic moments. Each point of climax is undercut and made anti-climatic in a way that keeps the audience from truly connecting with Tolins’ plot. The use of extended monologues throughout for each character reveals the playwright’s inability to put thought, feeling and motivation into dramatic action. Rather Tolins’ chooses to sabotage any momentum he has built during scenes with abstract and unclear direct-address monologues. Tolins’ penchant for the abstract further bogs down his script with heady reference to Wagner’s music, that the average Joe of the street (myself included) simply won’t get. However, despite a poor selection to kick off their 2010 season, Theatre Within makes a noble effort to converse seriously about the topics Tolins’ introduces.

Artistic director, Rod Isaac, most likely chose this selection because of an interest in the hypothetical question which the script poses. If a conservative family in the 1980s had the ability to learn about their baby’s genetic makeup in advance, and if that family learned their child would most likely be gay, should they abort the child? The catch, this child’s uncle is gay himself, making the family’s decision extremely personal and controversial in and of themselves. The Gold family finds themselves in this situation when Suzanne Gold-Stein (Ruth Hawkins) announces to her family she is pregnant. Her husband Rob (Jonathan Evans), a genetic researcher, volunteers his wife for this newly developed and largely untested screening process, only to learn that the baby will be like Suzanne’s brother, David (Dannon Crews). With parents Phyllis (Susan Pieples) and Walter (Dan Flahive) who are unable to accept their gay son fully, it seems history will once again repeat itself. That is if the baby is even allowed to come full term.

As the play centers on familial relationships, the actors soar together as a believable family ensemble. With introductions to Suzanne and Rob first, then Phyllis and Walter and finally David, the actors do a nice job of relating to each other as if their history is long and sordid but still full of love. Hawkins and Crews establish a believable sibling relationship, which contrasts nicely to the work down by Pieples and Flahive as parents. As the only non-blood related member of the family on stage, Evans aptly plays awkward and left out as this family drama unfolds.

However, when each actor takes the stage solo for their various monologues, the performance begins to rip at the seams. Crews, as David, ably mines for a lot of great moments. He finds beats and glances that are all his own, conveying his character as extremely personable and lovable. However, as the subject turns dire, Crews personable smirk seems to make light of a hefty situation. His “wink and smile” facial expressions confused his Wagner metaphor for a joke. And the tragic outcome of events do not phase him at all. Hawkins portrayal of Suzanne was interesting and believable at first, but overall the actress failed to delve deeper than the surface level, passive action of being annoyed by her family. With one note vocal patterns, Hawkins doesn’t seem to really listen to her fellow scene partners.

Though his character’s arc is largely forgettable, Jonathan Evans took that as license to give a forgettable performance. With some of the most powerful and direct lines in the entire script, Evans missed out on an opportunity to really shine during his monologue. As the misguided and naive parents Phyllis and Walter, Susan Pieples and Dan Flahive offered believable relationships with each other and their children. However, their performances fell apart at their individual monologues. This telling sign of actors flailing during Tolins’ long and detached monologues reveals poor writing is to blame, not poor acting.

I believe had Isaac done more to place the play in the 1980s, some of the confusing elements of Tolins’ script would have been easily side stepped. The analysis made in Angela Leddy’s program notes ring true, “Twilight of the Golds was written in the ’90s, several years before protease inhibitors turned HIV into a manageable condition – and at the end of a decade that had seen the gay community ravaged by AIDS.” This fact is extremely important to understanding how a family could consider, out of fear, aborting a child that would be gay. However, this idea failed to show up on stage, as did a clear establishment of time being in the 1980s. With the absence of setting as an additional character and driving force for the characters on stage, their reasoning simply seemed wonky.

Overall, Twilight of the Golds was a valiant effort by Theatre Within. However, because Jonathan Tolins script missed the boat in so many ways, the actors in this Fountain Square production ended up drowning. Rod Isaac’s talent as a director is not in question, but his need for a literary manager is.

See Twilight of the Golds through March 27 at Theatre Within. Get down in this hip Indianapolis cultural district after the show. Grab dinner and drinks at these Indianapolis restaurants or Indianapolis bars. Stay tuned to Indianapolis News, Events and Information on Fun City for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis. This is Katelyn Coyne saying, “Get out in Indy and find some fun!”

Twilight of the Golds
Now through March 27

Theatre Within
1125 Spruce Street
Indianapolis, IN