Late yesterday afternoon, the lights faded out on the Gold-Stein living room for the last time. The last audience left, the stage was cleared of props and furniture, the costumes were sent out for cleaning, and the tearing down of the walls (and mountains) began. But before I complete this journey with you, I’d like to share about something, for sake of spoilers, that I couldn’t talk about before—the end of the play.
As the title suggests, and as the allusion to Wagner’s Gotterdammerung (English translation: Twilight of the Gods) indicates, The Twilight of the Golds is about the collapse of a family. It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to those watching it that it would not have a “happy” ending. In his beginning narrative, David even says, “This is where I saw my family together for the last time” and “This is how I like to picture what happened that stormy season, when I saw the last of the Golds.”
Although I feel the ending is tragic and sad, I don’t find it depressing, and that is because at least one member of the family, David, had the courage to, as he would say, “walk through the Magic Fire” to the other side. He has grown from the experience, and become stronger, better, and more fully able to love. Like Gotterdammerung, the play ends with the idea of rebirth, going as far as to finish on the same musical notes of the “Love and Redemption” theme that the opera does.
At the beginning of Act II, David discusses the ending of Gotterdammerung and the entire Ring Cycle, saying that Wagner considered “a slew of different endings,” but that when you listen to the music, you know that it could be no other way. Indeed, Jonathan Tolins, the playwright, also considered other endings—at least after the play was written. The 1996 movie version, which he co-scripted, has a “happy ending,” in which Suzanne divorces Rob, has her baby, and raises it with her brother David, who forgives his family for wishing he were never born.
I think the play is far more powerful than the film for a number of reasons, but mostly because David’s forgiveness seemed too sudden. I love happy endings, and I believe in the power of forgiveness, but the movie ending was too forced for me to accept as true. Optimist that I am, however, I have my own concept of a happy ending for the Gold family. It just takes a little longer. Please humor me and allow me to share it with you.
The play was set in 1993, and much has happened in the world since then. In my imaginary epilogue, if we were to catch up with the Golds today, 20 years later, we would find that David and Stephen are still together after 23 years. They still live in New York, where David, no longer the young apprentice, is now an accomplished designer for the Met. They are legally married and have two children of their own via another result of modern science—egg donors and surrogacy. The Gold bloodline indeed lives on. As they raise their children, they yearn for a connection between their new family and their family of origin—for their kids to have grandparents and an aunt and uncle. David now knows what his mother meant when she said, “If you were a parent, you’d understand,” for he is experiencing firsthand what it is like when your children do not always meet your expectations.
Suzanne and Rob, have had to make a lot of changes in order for their marriage to survive and have become more fully partners in each other’s lives. No longer an insecure child, Suzanne retains a relationship with her parents, but only on condition that her husband is treated as a full member of the family. After years of living by themselves, they decide to adopt a gay teenager. The truth is, they have plenty to choose from, since, sadly, almost half of New York City’s homeless youth identify as GLBT.
Now in their 70s, Phyllis and Walter have vibrant, active lives, forced as they were to no longer revolve their lives entirely around their children. With the passage of time, they have eventually become much more open-minded and accepting, and adore their adopted teenage grandchild as one of their own. When David makes a reconciliatory gesture, they are more than ready to walk through the Magic Fire, and do so without a singe. By the time Walter and Phyllis’ 50th wedding anniversary arrives, the entire Gold family, including Stephen and the grandchildren, celebrate at a restaurant that Rob selected.
So there you have it—my happy ending epilogue. It may be my fantasy, but similar stories are happening in families across the country, and they are no less real than the more tragic stories of prejudice that also exist.
Thank you for following me on this journey through the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach’s production of The Twilight of the Golds. The show is over, but I truly hope that the conversations this thought-provoking play has inspired will continue.