Rhoda Morgenstern's dad to so many of us, thanks to the miracle of 1970s television, Harold Gould is 80-year-old proof that doing a lot of TV needn't mess up an actor's best theatrical instincts, let alone a superb head of hair. I've seen this character man on stage three times: First, in "The Substance of Fire" in San Diego, where Gould's hawklike profile and steely edge were deployed to terrific advantage; second, in a really depressing musical version of "A Christmas Carol" in Los Angeles; and now, in "The Family Gold," Annie Reiner's pro forma heartwarmer, which opened the Victory Gardens Theater season Monday.
The actor born Harold Goldstein plays Ted Gold, an actor born Ted Goldschlag, whom we hear was once "the new Victor Mature" and now must cope with intimations of obscurity and mortality. What Gould does here, working with a pretty lumpy exercise in family strife, with jokes, is no less engaging than Fritz Weaver was in last season's modest but enjoyable "Trying."
New York City apartment with his wife of more than half-a-century, Ruth (Rosalyn Alexander). She has made pea soup. "Very good," Ted mutters, tired. "I never saw corn in pea soup."
A promising bit of banter. Then, in comes daughter Dory (Julia Neary), whose marriage to a fellow poet has hit the skids. She has come to live with her folks a while. The family dynamic is established with a heavy hand. In this family dynamic Ted and Dory are kindred spirits, the "artists," while hypercritical Ruth is the practical one, too often left out of the loop.
Reiner's supporting characters are pure sitcom: The Irish-brogue-sportin' Mrs. Gilheany (Mary Seibel), and the drugstore deliveryman, Luis (Tony Sancho). Reiner has written a three-character play with these two extra characters tossed in for spice. By the time Ted suffers a crisis in "The Family Gold," just enough of one to generate some overt conflict in a play relying on low-level anxiety and sniping, it's clear Reiner's heart is in the right place. She just hasn't found a way to finesse the mood swings.
The best writing goes jab-jab-jab, quickly and deftly, whereas too often in this production the actors maximize every little moment at the expense of the overall rhythm. (This may be a matter of getting a few more performances out of the way.) Gould is never less than interesting, though. When the incurable cured-ham of a character curses his failing memory, or delivers Shakespearean quotations there are many of them you think: Here, playing this ham, is a true pro who doesn't indulge in the equivalent of audience cheek-pinching.
The play ends up an uncertain blend of honest writing and second-tier sitcommy writing. But if these things were easy to write, then our hearts would be well and truly warmed by every heartwarmer in existence.
Harold Gould warms up 'The Family Gold' at Victory Gardens
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