Richard Wagner, composer of some the world's most enduring classical music, once wanted to be a playwright. He would have sucked at the whole routine-he was mostly an opera guy, and operas draw their characters about as efficiently as the Detroit Lions have regrouped every fall since 1751, the year of their last championship. Besides, Dick's works are global and grandiose and preposterous and lofty and ferocious and menacing and wonderful and exponentially loud. A play of equal scope wouldn't command a stage so much as collapse it.
Think of the potential for death and injury, especially after the lawyers show up.
With Diversionary Theatre's current The Twilight of the Golds , Wagner's actually in a play, sort of. His operas, especially the four-entry Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle, are a lot of the inspiration behind arts-loving David Gold (Matthew Weeden), a gay, thoroughly likable bon vivant who's about to suffer a fate of Wagnerian proportion. His sister Suzanne's abject cowardice and her husband's armchair evil propel him out of harm's way-in the end, he'll matter-of-factly refer to his family as "the Golds," whose downfall is designed to echo the deities' demise in the Ring . (In fact, the cycle's concluding passage is called "Twilight of the Gods." Get it?)
It's a surprise this piece rises from the ashes after so slovenly a start. Playwright Jonathan Tolins' one-liners and inside jokes are fast, furious and all over the map for the first 20 minutes; two monologues outrun the play's eventual conclusion; and Tolins introduces Suzanne with about as much conviction as an acquitted defendant. Beyond that, director Rosina Reynolds draws the characters fairly well as a typical New York Jewish family. Glynn Bedington passes nicely for David's flighty mother Phyllis, who seeks peace at any price. But as David's dad Walter, Fred Moramarco has got to do a better job at finding his character's actorial peaks and valleys.
But, oh, for the exchange near the end of the first act, when Suzie's husband Rob reveals the results of some routine tests. He's a genetic scientist, after all, and the human genome project has been underway for about three years-enough time to reasonably determine that Suzanne's baby may inherit David's sexual persuasion. Joshua Harrell and Amanda Sitton are exceptional in this scene, he amid Rob's chalky complacency and she amid the thought that Suzanne would actually abort the child as a result of the finding. It's an infuriating mix of betrayal and button-down self-righteousness, and it sustains the action deep into the rest of the show.
One plot twist later, Suzanne squanders a fundamental opportunity to change the world. And she'll never see another-the bitch.
Wagner, who took no particular pains to conceal his thoughts on Judaism, would have relished that monumental slap in the face to Jewish culture-the loss of a bloodline. Meanwhile, he'd likely take to genetic eradication of homosexuality with an enthusiasm that rivals Rob's. His thoughts on David Weiner's set and Shulamit Nelson's costumes might be open to question, but not by me. I like 'em. Their well-considered blandness directs attention to the plot, where it belongs. It's the story-indeed the thought-that counts here. And, man, what a harrowing thought it is.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of March 18. The Twilight of the Golds runs through April 9 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. in University Heights. $9-$27. 619-220-0097.
Somebody oughta write a one-person show based on Esther Mills, the plain-spoken, immensely interesting lead character in Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel . The golden-fingered black seamstress has cultivated some strong opinions from inside her rooming-house residence in the New York of 1905, and that would assure a few colorful stories about her upscale and low-end clients. For now, let's settle for the San Diego Repertory Theatre's take on the play, which shows Esther's (Lisa Renee Pitts) two very distinct sides. She may be otherwise fiercely independent, but her inexperience in the man department leaves her vulnerable to the wrong one.
Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg has tended toward an insidious flaw here and in some of her prior work, one that can carry significant complications. Too often, she impulsively underuses her stage, losing sight of physical space as a vital tool for character development. But she's venturesome, smart and intent on her job, and so is Esther. That makes for a good match in this highly recommended piece.
Intimate Apparel runs through April 9 at The Lyceum, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown. $27-$42. 619-544-1000.