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The Twilight of the Golds

The Twilight of the Golds" ought to have a run on Broadway, not because it's great -- it's not -- or because it promises unforgettable acting in choice roles -- it doesn't. This play by newcomer Jonathan Tolins is a trashy, manipulative, sentimental morality tale that could do for the stage what "Indecent Proposal" did in the movies: Provoke arguments about an issue that goes right to the heart of what binds families together or rips them apart.

The Twilight of the Golds” ought to have a run on Broadway, not because it’s great — it’s not — or because it promises unforgettable acting in choice roles — it doesn’t. This play by newcomer Jonathan Tolins is a trashy, manipulative, sentimental morality tale that could do for the stage what “Indecent Proposal” did in the movies: Provoke arguments about an issue that goes right to the heart of what binds families together or rips them apart.

Here’s the setup: Rob Stein (Michael Spound) is a doctor involved in biotech research whose company has developed sophisticated chromosome analysis that can be performed very early in pregnancy. When his wife, Suzanne (Jennifer Grey), becomes pregnant, she agrees to undergo the experimental testing. The results show 10 fingers, 10 toes — and a 90% likelihood that the male baby will be gay. What do they do? What, the play asks by extension, would you or I do?

Suzanne’s gay brother David (Raphael Sbarge), an underling in set design at the Metropolitan Opera, is shocked that there’s even a question.

Rob, along with Suzanne’s very involved parents, Phyllis (Judith Scarpone) and Walter (David Groh), are into a heavy passive-aggressive thing, making it clear they want her to have an abortion without ever actually coming out and saying so; after all, look how tough it’s been to have David in the family.

The outcome devastates everyone. But first David gets to deliver several winningly tacky monologues drawing parallels between their predicament and the story of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” trilogy, complete with musical excerpts.

Merged with this path to tragedy is a traditional matinee comedy with lots of set pieces and one-liners. “I must have dressed you funny,” Phyllis tells David, drawing a big laugh that grows bigger when she adds, “If only I hadn’t taken your temperature that way.”

“Twilight” flaunts enough Jewish stereotypes to offend anyone who stops laughing long enough to listen. Worst is Suzanne, a vacant, indecisive, gift-mongering cipher typed as a Jewish American Princess straight out of “Goodbye, Columbus” (which is mentioned, lest anyone miss the point). Grey is so good at conveying those qualities that it’s hard to know whether Suzanne is supposed to be utterly unlikable or the actress hasn’t found a route into Suzanne’s soul. Either way, the result is a standoff between actress and character.

The rest of the acting, with the exception of Sbarge, is as stock as the writing, all posture and no grace. Sbarge, as likely a member of this family as Bill Cosby, nevertheless brings an ingratiating naturalness to the role of David.

The technical elements are uniformly mediocre, and special mention should be made of the extremely ugly wardrobe Jeanne Button has provided Grey, who also has entirely too much going on with her hair, highlights-wise.

But truthfully, none of this should matter. Arvin Brown has staged “Twilight of the Golds” exactly as it ought to be staged, with its consternation triple-underlined and its jokes italicized. As with “Indecent Proposal,” no one will come out of this play remembering much more than the scary question at its center. In a just world, that would be enough to get ’em lining up at the box office.

The Twilight of the Golds

(Booth Theater, New York; 806 seats; $ 45 top)

  • Production: A Charles H. Duggan, Michael Leavitt, Fox Theatricals, Libby Adler Mages, Drew Dennett and Ted Snowdon presentation of a play in two acts by Jonathan Tolins. Directed by Arvin Brown.
  • Crew: Sets, John Iacovelli; costumes, Jeanne Button; lighting, Martin Aronstein; sound, Jonathan Deans. Opened Oct. 21, 1993; reviewed Oct. 20.
  • Cast: David Gold ... Raphael Sbarge Suzanne Gold-Stein ... Jennifer Grey Rob Stein ... Michael Spound Phyllis Gold ... Judith Scarpone Walter Gold ... David Groh
  • Music By: