Diane de Beer
When Annabel Linder first stepped out as the mother in Twilight of the Golds in the Janice Honeyman production at the then Tesson Theatre, she was in denial about her son’s homosexuality.
With the recent draconian laws on homosexuality, comments by the Ugandan prime minister, and her own turnaround and love for her son exactly for who he is, she felt a revival was prescient and turned to Daphne Kuhn at Auto and General’s Theatre on the Square.
They approached Maralin Vanrenen to direct. She had been involved in that first production as assistant director.
“It’s such a brilliant play,” says Vanrenen, who is delighted to have a second bite at this intriguing work, which opens on March 19.
And because of the much more intimate space, her approach has had to be much more specific than the first time round.
“It’s a bit like talking movie screen and TV,” she explains.
Written by Jonathan Tollins, it is a provocative play dealing with sexuality, religion and present scientific evidence of a gay gene, through the unfolding of the story of a typical well-to-do New York Jewish family.
When the pregnant Suzanne is persuaded by her geneticist husband to have an amniocentesis, the DNA tests reveal some challenging results for the couple – and for the family, whose lives are never the same again.
It’s set in the 1980s – recent times but light years away when it comes to social media and the internet. “There was no internet dating back then, for example,” says Vanrenen. But she decided to keep the play as it is. “I didn’t want to rewrite anything,” she says, knowing that the issues haven’t changed in any way, but our responses might have.
“People always react because of fear,” she says. “The play is as important and relevant today because it moves us to greater understanding.”
She loves the fact that Linder’s understanding of the work has shifted and that it will inform her performance as the mother. Also, because times have moved on, the actors and the audience bring a different emotional intelligence to the work.
“Character creates destiny,” she believes, and the playwright illustrates that. He puts those who trample on others lowest and celebrates those who embrace humanity in all its wondrous diversity.
“It’s a Herculean decision that this family has to make,” she says comparing it to a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy.
“We’re dealing with morality in a very dense play.”
With Linder as the mother, Michael De Pinna joins her as the father. Perhaps more familiar as a singer and advertising star, he’s thrilled to be back in an acting role and Vanrenen thought he was perfect for the part.
The three young actors – Daniel Janks, Caryn Katz and Clayton Boyd – are fresh faces, which especially thrills the director. “I didn’t want to go for the obvious choices,” she says, and admits she could probably have cast the play a dozen times with a different set of actors.
One of the considerations when casting, which was important because of the family ties, was that they had to look like a family. “We couldn’t cast without taking that into account,” says this old-timer.
If it sounds like too much sturm und drang, the humour of the piece appeals to Vanrenen’s sense of reality. “It’s typical of what happens in families,” she says. “Even with all life’s drama happening around you, there’s always humour in any situation.”
Yet she loves the underlining of depth that’s inherent in the work.
With hindsight some of the text will also resonate more than when it played earlier. “They refer to a world of money where everybody almost has too much,” she explains. This was before the latest big crash and one of the characters notes that they have too much time to worry. That’s why the dilemma.”
It’s been a few years since Vanrenen has directed for stage. “I’ve been writing these past few years for Muvhango,” she says.
The break was a good one. But she also believes life is cyclical and, in November last year, a number of stage requests suddenly came her way.
This time, she set the writing aside – for the moment. “It’s good to be back,” she says. “It feels as if there is a renewed interest in drama and as if people want to see real people on stage. There’s a hunger.”
She’s delighted that this gives her a chance to take the time to put Twilight of the Golds under a microscope and look at it from a different and closer perspective.
lThe Twilight of the Golds is on at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square from March 19 to April 12.