The Last of the Golds (?)

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.

Sincerely,

Tom Coffey

Director

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The Non-Permanent Art

I’ve been creating things for as long as I can remember—drawing, painting, sculpture, films.  I still have some of the pictures I drew in childhood, animated movies I made as a teenager, and paintings I did in college.  I cherish the fact that I can still look at some of these accomplishments—sometimes with great pride, and other times with a slight cringe, but always being able to say, “Yep, I made that.”

But theatre is a form of creativity that once performed is gone forever, except in memory.  While the script is permanent, always awaiting the next interpretation, the individual production itself is really, truly over when it is over.  It’s a bit like making sculptures in ice or sand, or painting a mural on a wall that you know is going to be painted over in a month.  It lives for the moment.

Oh sure, there may be photographs and recordings of live events, but they pale in comparison to being present as art unfolds in a one-time-only experience.  There’s just nothing like it.

You have three more opportunities to see our production of The Twilight of the Golds at the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach as we approach our final weekend.  Reserve your seats now.  Catch it while you can!

Sincerely,

Tom Coffey

Director

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A Family Portrait

Although Jonathan Tolins’ The Twilight of the Golds covers a wide number of topics, I see it, above all, as a play about family love and its limitations.  My goal as Director from the start has been to focus primarily on the one aspect of the show to which most of us can relate—our relationship with family.

Family is often presumed to be a source of deep joy and connection—perhaps even the most important thing in the world.  The members of Walter and Phyllis Gold’s generation grew up surrounded by popular imagery that solely represented the family in this way.  From Andy Hardy movies to Father Knows Best, families were always loving, nuclear, and unbreakable.  While for some people, this still remains true, for others family can be a cause of frustration, pain, and sorrow.  Even for those of us who have pleasant connections with the word, it can also cause anxiety and stress.  And if we claim to deeply love our family, does this mean we love every single thing about them?

Love is a complicated thing, and has been known to exist alongside a myriad of other emotions, like jealousy, disappointment, fear, and prejudice.  Sometimes, we ignore or deny these other feelings, only to have them come seeping through when we face difficult circumstances.  Such is the dilemma of the Gold family.  The drama of their story revolves around whether or not their love for each other is stronger than their other emotions.

Unlike the world Walter and Phyllis grew up in, today the word “family” has a broader definition than blood, DNA, and a history of having grown up together.  It can also be a “family of choice” that includes people you want in your life and who want you in theirs, not because you feel obligated, but out of interests and beliefs you share in common.  Like the very best of relatives, they accept you for who you are and love you no matter what.  This is the type of family that often develops in the back stages, dressing rooms, and green rooms of the theatre in the camaraderie of putting on a show.  It’s the kind of relationship that only adds to the joy of producing, directing, designing, and acting in a play.

Our run of The Twilight of the Golds is now halfway through, with only two weekends left.  We’ve been having a wonderful time presenting our play.  Based on their reaction, audiences seem to have found it worthwhile too.  They have been deeply moved by the Gold family’s journey, and we have been moved by their support and applause.  If you have seen the show, a very big thank you.  If you have not yet, here’s an open invitation to see what it’s all about.

Sincerely,

Tom Coffey

Director

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It’s Twilight Time!

It’s opening night and I feel like a nervous expectant parent.  Ten fingers, ten toes?  We all hope so, but those of us who have worked on this “baby” love it with all our hearts, and we will keep on loving it no matter what.  We hope others will, but we have no control over that.  It’s one of the hardest challenges that any parent faces–after working so hard to give it your very best, you have to let go, let it face the world, and see what happens.

Thanks for reading my musings about our very creative journey.  Please come see The Twilight of the Golds, running weekends now through February 3, 2013.

Most Sincerely,

Tom Coffey,

Director

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A Golden Crew

Heart of Gold CrewI have mentioned before that theatre is an incredibly collaborative art.  I have always figured that the more talented, creative, and imaginative the people you surround yourself with, the stronger the chances are that your work together will be successful.  And I indeed have an amazing technical crew!  Please allow me to introduce some of them:

Jason Martens is our wonderful Assistant Director.  He has been a constant support in helping make my vision a reality, and his insightful suggestions have made it a better show than I imagined.  And who better to help tell a story seen through the eyes of a talented young set designer than one of the best set designers in the Hampton Roads area?  Now the secret is out—Jason is an equally gifted director!

Robin Martineau is our Stage Manager supreme.  Her calm, steady stride through the occasionally bumpy ride of pulling all the elements of a show together has made it much easier for me to have faith that this very ambitious and challenging production would eventually coalesce.  Having already stage managed 15 other shows, her organizational skills were just what this sometimes-absent-minded Director needed.

Victor Ortiz, our Assistant Stage Manager, has been so much more than that.  Anytime, anywhere a problem arose, Victor was already on it before we even asked, and all with a smiling face and a willing, supportive attitude.

Donna Lawheed is our very imaginative Set Designer extraordinaire.  As the real designer of a set supposedly designed by the play’s narrator, she met the set’s daunting requirements with her always-imaginative approach, accomplishing some things that have probably never been done before on our somewhat-challengingly shaped stage.

Designing a wildly creative set is one thing, but we fortunately also had the remarkably knowledgeable Dennis Lawheed and his talented crew to see that it was built to perfection.

Mary Lou Mahlman is our Costume Designer, and she has done a fantastic job finding the appropriate costume  for each of the characters.  She has coordinated each costume in such a seamless way with not only the set and the other costumes seen throughout the play, but also with the time the play was written in, helping to evoke the early ’90s in a subtle, yet effective way.

Lisa Bolen and Vonnie Henry are our marvelous property people.  They scoured the land and pulled a few things out of their magic bag of tricks to fill our set with authentic (or authentic looking) belongings for the Gold family households.  It sounds easy enough until you think of all the little ways the world has changed since 1993, the time of the play’s setting.

The versatile Robin Chapman serves not only as our very proficient Producer, making sure everything needed got done, but also as our Sound Designer, making sure everything was pitch perfect.  He was assisted by our Music Consultant, John Saetta, whose musical knowledge was crucial to the show.  It was upon John’s insistence that I spent 20 hours over a two-week period last spring in a movie theatre, getting a better understanding of one of the play’s characters. 

I am forever indebted to the amazing Samantha Johnston, our Lighting Designer, who has worked tirelessly and without complaint to assure that our set was always bathed in the most appropriate and flattering light possible.  She has done an incredible job.

 However, you would never get to see the tremendous light or sound designs we have for The Twilight of the Golds without our nimble-fingered Light/Sound Board Operator, the superb Rita Gordon.  I am so grateful for her talents.

 The cast has done their work, the crew has done theirs, and now all we need is a chance to show you what we have done.  And what do you know—that opportunity has finally arrived!  Opening night is upon us!  Please come spend an evening with the lovely Gold family and watch our production of The Twilight of the Golds.

Sincerely,

Tom Coffey

Director

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A Cast Worth Its Weight in Golds

The Twilight of the Golds is an ensemble piece with five incredibly demanding roles.  Each character plays an integral part in the story, and each role requires real depth and absolute authenticity.  It is a testament to how interesting all of these characters are that many talented actors were willing to come to auditions. 

While this is what every Director hopes for, it also makes casting very challenging.  I am very grateful to everyone who attended—they were all amazing.  Casting a show in which all of the characters are family members, however, involves more than selecting great actors.  We need to believe with absolute certainty that these people swam out of the same gene pool and have spent the better part of their lives together.  Chemistry played a major part in our decisions. 

I am extremely excited with the choices we made and the fearless way in which these actors have immersed themselves in their roles.  Please allow me to introduce them: 

Christopher Bernhardt, who plays David Gold, is probably most familiar to LTVB audiences for his comedic characters in Laughter on the 23rd Floor and The 39 Steps and as the fantastic Director of shows like Guys and Dolls and Jekyll and Hyde.  It’s a real joy to watch him expand with this dramatic role, while still using his expert comic timing to contrast David’s serious side with playfulness and humor. 

Leigh Strenger portrays David’s older sister, Suzanne Gold-Stein.  LTVB audiences know Leigh for her roles in All My Sons and The 39 Steps, but she is also a tireless backstage volunteer.  She gives us a Suzanne who is sweet and vulnerable, but also very astute. She does so with such depth that we immediately know Suzanne is not really the shallow person other family members consider her to be. 

Steve Wright plays Suzanne’s husband, Dr. Rob Stein.  Previously seen on our stage in A Bad Year for Tomatoes, Steve portrays Rob as a very tender and loving, if at times put out, partner who cares deeply about the world around him.  It is a nice contrast to the often-standard interpretation of scientists and researchers as cold and emotionless. 

Missy Bernstein portrays Phyllis Gold, David and Suzanne’s mother.  Missy was in our production of Gypsy, and she brings much warmth, energy, and humor to Phyllis as a woman who is loving, knowing, smart, and wise, but also at times utterly clueless why her words or actions would upset her children, whom she adores with all her heart. 

Steve Suskin rounds out our cast as Walter Gold, husband of Phyllis and father to David and Suzanne.  Steve had roles in LTVB’s A Bad Year for Tomatoes and Gypsy.  He plays Walter as an extremely affable dad who is both proud and disappointed with his children at the same time.  It is a wonderful balancing act that Steve does to perfection.

The Twilight of the Golds begins in less than a week.  Come see our cast in action!

Sincerely,

Tom Coffey

Director

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On Heroes, Villains, and Being Human

One of the things audiences sometimes expect when watching a show is that fairly soon after the curtain rises, the characters separate into “the good guys” and “the bad guys.”  Real life, however, is not always so clear or simple.  Human beings are usually considerably more complicated.  Each of us contains the potential for being quite wonderful or quite horrible, so it often depends upon the moment you catch us in as to whether you will perceive us as one or the other.

 This is one of the things I love about Jonathan Tolin’s script for The Twilight of the Golds.  The play contains five delightfully complex, fully realized human beings.  They are all basically good, decent, loving people, and they will insist with absolute conviction, at various points in the play, that they are doing the right thing.  But who among us has not discovered, often in hindsight, that what seemed like a good idea at the time was somewhat misguided or misinformed?  Even the most self-assured among us can face doubt and regret from time to time.  It seems to be part of human nature.

In the development of our production of The Twilight of the Golds, we are striving to create flesh-and-blood people with whom you will recognize and relate.  We hope that they will grow on you, and that you will come to care about them.  At times, you might like each of them immensely, while at other times you might become quite disappointed or upset with them.

Isn’t that often the case with the people we allow into our lives?  Whether or not we always agree with them, they can provide us with a mirror to look at ourselves.  They give us an opportunity to look at how we view the world, and to ponder what we might do under similar circumstances.

Please come get to know these five fascinating people beginning January 11, 2013 at the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach during our production of The Twilight of the Golds.  Perhaps like our cast and crew, who have been getting to know these characters for a couple months now, you will also get to know more about yourself.

Sincerely,

Tom Coffey

Director

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