On Friday, March 12, I drove to the Fountain Square neighborhood on the near south side of Indianapolis to see “The Twilight of the Golds” at The Theatre Within, an all-volunteer company that is hosted by The Church Within. The play was written by Jonathan Tolins and directed for TTW by Rod Isaac.
I like that every show at The Theatre Within includes a chance for discussion with the director, actors, and a guest facilitator. On the night I went, the facilitator was Dr. Valerie Chang. That part of the show is called “Looking Within.” It is nothing like a traditional community theatre receiving line where you’re forced to come up with praise for the actors before you have even come out of the story trance enough to remember your own name. In fact, there is no pressure at TTW to hang around at all when the lights come up after the curtain call. However, if you want to “process” your thoughts and feelings about the show with others, the “Looking Within” segment of the evening is a good opportunity.
I stayed put after “The Twilight of the Golds.” I was curious to hear what other people would say about it.
I had never seen this late 1980s/early1990s piece before but I suspect that in some ways it is even more relevant now than when it was first produced on Broadway in 1993. I suspect that it is more chilling now, too, as a period science fiction piece, given today’s real-life genetic engineering.
It is the story of an affluent, all-adult family whose members give the wrong answers when presented with the option of aborting their next family member because he is certain to be homosexual like the brother/son they already have.
Mind you, nobody uses the word “abort” or even “homosexual.” All of the conversation is about keeping or not keeping a baby who will be “like David.”
David Gold (Dannon Crews) is a flamboyantly, even stereotypically, gay man who designs sets for the opera and who is “one of those people who take people to the opera against their will.” He tries to get everyone else he knows, including his family, to love opera as much as he does. He has a male partner that we never meet because his parents refuse to include the partner in family gatherings but up until the events in this play, David would probably have said that his parents and sister basically love and accept him (David.)
His sister, Suzanne Gold-Stein (Ruth Hawkins) is married to a man, Rob Stein (Jonathan Evans), whose company does research related to genetics. When she announces at a family dinner that she is pregnant, her (and David’s) mother, Phyllis Gold (Susan Pieples), and father, Walter Gold (Dan Flahive), are thrilled, as is David.
But then Rob suggests that Suzanne let his co-worker run an innovative test that they have been developing. She agrees.
The results of the test show that if Rob and Suzanne keep their baby, it will be “like David.” I.e., homosexual.
It is a shock, and very painful, for David to learn that his parents and his sister and brother-in-law all think that based on the news of the test, it would be a good idea to terminate the pregnancy. He turns to stories from his beloved opera to help him make his case for keeping the baby and, by extension, keeping him. Unfortunately, none of his relations is strong enough or open-minded enough to emulate his operatic heroes.
During the discussion after the show, one audience member said something like, “Each person in the family thought it was all about them. This show is a good mirror.”
Another audience member said, “I am SO pro-choice, but that show rattled me to the core.”
It rattled me, too.
It also got me to thinking not just about the big kinds of acceptance issues but also smaller ones. How does anyone decide which burdens are worth carrying and which not? Martyrdom is tedious but convenience is not always worth the trade-off either.
And what if my parents had known everything about me before I was born? Would my parents still have wanted me if they had known how strong-willed a child I would be? What if they had known that I would be fat? What about childless? Would they have still wanted to keep me if they had known ahead of time that I would put that dent in the side of the station wagon just after I got my driver’s license?
Ultimately, I was glad I saw this production because it moved me and it made me think. Suzanne says something like “The world is hard on gay people; I don’t want a child of mine to suffer” and David says “Then change the world!”
As a Piece of Theatre Art
I was also glad to be at The Theatre Within because for one reason or another I hadn’t been there since its first production back in 2007. That was before I started this blog, but I wrote about The Theatre Within’s production of Neil LaBute’s “Bash” for Indiana Auditions here.
In the almost three years since that inaugural production, the church/theatre space has been renovated a bit to feel more like a sanctuary than the gymnasium that it had been when the building was used as a girls’ club. I think the accumulation of good vibes from all the church services since then has also affected the space in a positive way. Not that it was bad before – it wasn’t – but the energy at TTW now feels even more grounded and supportive of healing, if that makes sense.
The theatre company has also acquired several theatre lights and other staging accessories. The set for “Bash” in 2007 was a card table and two folding chairs.
“And I stood at the back of the room, unplugging and plugging in the lamp as needed. Do you remember?” director Rod Isaac asked me as we chatted during the intermission for “The Twilight of the Golds.” I didn’t remember him doing that, but I did remember how bare-bones “Bash” was in general.
Here in 2010, the set for “The Twilight of the Golds” has a dramatic backdrop in the form of a huge, vertical swath of white cloth, and the leather couches on the still-creaky-but-freshly-painted stage look as if they might actually have come out of a swanky Manhattan apartment, as implied by the script.
Now there are real theatre lights in black cans with a variety of gels, too. (I think “gel” is the word for the piece of colored plastic that goes over the can to change the effect of a theatre light when it is turned on.) The lights are attached at various angles to poles and bars around the space. There are also two exciting gobos (sort of like stencils for the lights) – one that creates the look of flames, the other that creates the look of watery molecules. There is also a sound system. At the back of the theatre/church is an open booth for operating all of this cool new stuff.
I was happy for the theatre’s growth in terms of acquiring staging options, but some of the choices that the design team made with the new equipment didn’t work for me. For example, there was a red light that was set to shine on the stage from low on the side that made whoever was sitting in a certain spot on one of the sofas look distractingly flushed, no matter what was going on in the story. Sometimes the music that played softly under various people’s monologues was distracting rather than enhancing, too.
And more than once I only cared about seeing the actor who happened to be doing a monologue, and yet because he or she had sat down on the edge of the stage and the audience’s chairs were all on one level, I could not. I saw other audience members craning their necks during those times, too. Too bad, because from what I could hear, the monologues were especially powerful.
However, even though some aspects of this show did not satisfy me artistically, I liked feeling that the people who work on shows at The Theatre Within are learning as they go. I liked feeling that I, as an audience member, am part of that journey.
And in the meantime, I admired the acting skills of the entire cast, and admired the director for guiding their discovery process.
Accident or Scripted?
Speaking of the cast, I LOVED how the cast and crew handled “the black-out from hell” (as the director put it later) that occurred during Act One on the night that I saw the show.
First, in Act One something happened to the bookcase that was behind one of the sofas. Suzanne went to add David’s latest gift of an opera CD to the dozens of others that he had given them over the years. There was a crashing sound that made everyone – cast and audience – jump. Suzanne said, “Oh, no! I broke the bookcase!”
Her husband said, without missing a beat, “Don’t worry. It’s only IKEA.” Everyone laughed and the scene went on.
But their cordless phone must have been on that bookcase and fallen down behind the stage during the accident because (I learned later) the actress (Ruth Hawkins) could not find the phone during the scene change. It was essential for the following scene. The black-out went on forever while she and the crew tried to find the phone in the dark and while she tried to decide if she should just go on and mime it.
She did find it finally, though, and when the lights (a very nice, soft, bluish-white spot) came back up, she flawlessly performed the scene of Suzanne talking on the phone with her mother.
And THEN, when David came into the apartment again in Act Two, he said, “Hey! You guys got a new bookcase!” I was the only one in the audience who barked with laughter at that, but surely that was an ad-libbed line? Or was the whole bookcase mishap part of the script? In any case, I loved the very natural energy of the whole, two-part exchange.
I always love that anything can happen in live theatre.
Art on the Walls
During the run of “The Twilight of the Golds” at the entrance to the theatre space there is an exhibit of a series of 11 photographs by Gina Pope-King called “Homo-Phobia.” Each piece is of a part of her naked body on which is inked a hurtful phrase, such as “You just haven’t found the right man yet” or “It’s probably better if you don’t tell anyone.”
The artist’s statement says that “By placing (the phrases) on something which is naked and vulnerable, it makes the statements less antagonistic and easier to see them for what they are: harmful and ignorant.”
For me, the fact that the phrases looked like tattoos was disturbing. It reminded me that words, even words just tossed out lightly, can sometimes have a lasting impact on the person who hears or reads them.
However, the knowledge that the artist had not actually tattooed her body with these phrases, only written them, gave me the image, too, in my mind, of the words being scrubbable, or least fading over time. That was comforting.
The photography exhibit is a thought-provoking compliment to an already thought-provoking piece of performance art.
Update: I apologize! An earlier version of this post said that the run of this show was over. However, The Theatre Within’s production of “The Twilight of the Golds” actually has one more weekend, with performances on Friday, March 26, 2010 and Saturday, March 27, 2010, both at 8pm. Yay! Please call 317-850-4665 to make a reservation.
The next TTW production will be “Proof,” by David Auburn, June 11-26, 2010.
‘See you at the theatres!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com
Follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com, too.
P.S. – I thought I had a publicity photo (not a show poster) from “The Twilight of the Golds” but I guess I don’t. I found the above photo in the Creative Commons area of Flickr.com. It was taken by epSos.de and titled “Wooden Sculpture of Science Genetics” but the sculpture and sculptor themselves are unidentified.
The production team for “The Twilight of the Golds” included: Director – Rod Isaac; Stage manager – Katie Clements; Costumes – cast; Props – Susan Pieples; Lighting design – Eryn Bowser; Sound design – Lee Campbell, Heidi Snider; Lighting operator – Don Treadwell; Sound operator – Gary BraVard; Technical support – Alicia Bush; Stage crew – Melissa Cummings.
The management team for The Theatre Within includes: Artistic director – Rod Isaac; Business manager – Calvin Brandenburg; Community Liaison – Vivi Spaulding; Concessions manager – Sandra Isaac; House manager – Ann Bentin; Looking Within coordinator – Denise Malayeri; Marketing director – Scot McKim; Reception coordinator – Angela Leddy; Technical manager – Don Treadwell; Webmaster – Darren Chittick.