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THEATER REVIEW / 'TWILIGHT OF THE GOLDS' : Moral Hot Waters : Pasadena Playhouse's important new comedy explores how a dysfunctional family deals with touchy issues.

April 01, 1993|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"There is no precedent--it's just us."

They didn't ask to be pioneers, but the Golds, an upper-middle-class Jewish family from New York, find themselves in uncharted moral hot waters in Jonathan Tolins' "The Twilight of the Golds."

A meditation on ethics, opera, freedom of choice, and the future of the species sheathed in snappy comedy, this original production from the Pasadena Playhouse is a seamless mesh of script, performance and staging.

This is a play with a big future--miss it at your own risk.

Tolins' Golds are immensely likable--an affectionately dysfunctional modern clan who communicate in neurotic sitcom-style banter. With admirable insight and compassion, Tolins introduces each family member in direct address monologues--enlisting our sympathy and at the same time deftly closing off the option of convenient villains.

But the Golds are not people accustomed to making difficult choices. Frighteningly accurate products of the Reagan era, they have learned to trade moral clarity for comfort, even making a quiet truce with son David's (Raphael Sbarge) homosexuality without ever really confronting it.

Yet they can't dodge the resulting crisis when a breakthrough in genetic decoding reveals that pregnant daughter Suzanne (Jodi Thelen) will most likely bear a son who will grow up to be "like David."

Suddenly the family finds itself treading a moral minefield as Suzanne, who has always taken the easy way out, wrestles with whether or not to have the baby.

Without the clarity of an economic or medical rationale for abortion, her choice could very well usher in the nightmare of selective breeding based on preferred traits. The question becomes, as her husband Rob (Michael Spound) puts it, "What we do now that God is resting."

"Every human being is a tapestry," David screams in protest. "You pull one undesirable thread and the art unravels!" Though he believes in freedom of choice, the outraged David finds himself implicitly battling for his own existence--would his parents have aborted him if they had had the option? he wonders.

Maddeningly, there's no definitive answer. "I don't know," snaps his father (David Groh). "Maybe we wouldn't have to think about the things you make us think about."

For all the play's witty dialogue, there's a sharp denunciation of the moral laxity in a society that will soon have to face the questions raised by the Golds' dilemma.

David raises the unsettling possibilities when he speaks of a world that has "become corrupt, lazy, and materialistic. . . . True love is destroyed as people cling to twisted ideas of honor and duty that are based on lies. . . . There is no point in preserving this failed civilization. The continuum of history . . . has played itself out."

Yet in the end his sheer apocalyptic condemnation reveals a tragic stubbornness in David--for underneath his pain is a child's cry for unqualified love. He has yet to embrace his all-too-human family stripped of their godhood.

But that's another play.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"The Twilight of the Golds." Performed through April 11 at the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., in Santa Barbara, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $31.50. Call (805) 963-0761 for reservations or further information.

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