There is nothing so outdated as yesterday's newspaper. Neither current nor old enough to be period, much of Paula Vogel's "The Mineola Twins" seemed to me like that day-old news. While it argues its politics with vigor and sharp intelligence, what kept the evening interesting was the imaginative storytelling technique, rather than the content of its ideas. Vogel is an ingenious and often dazzling playwright, and in her best work, like "How I Learned to Drive" and "The Baltimore Waltz", that invention is melded with the complexities of the heart, and a deep desire to find ways of coping with the most perplexing of life's challenges. In this play, the flashy creativity feels more like the loud music and insistent imagery of advertising; irresistible, garish, superficial and obvious. Given that "camp" is essentially artifice as style, and style as content, and that Vogel is never really simple, I'm sure there is more going on here, but an uneven cast and unfocused direction kept it unrealized in this production.
The story is a journey through the past few decades as experienced by almost identical twin sisters (except that one is busty, the other flat-chested), but who are virtual reverse mirror-images in terms of experience, values and lifestyle. It's told iconographically through the fashion, music and current affairs of each period. This portrait of a literal sisterhood rife with dissension, diversity, confusion, extremism and discord is a rich melange of gender politics and the shifting images and preconceptions of contemporary women's lives. To that is added a lot of role reversal, and a conventionally melodramatic action climax. Headline events become political signposts to mark our progress through administrations from Eisenhower to Reagan, and as the clothing changes along with the issues of the moment, the two sisters harden into fixed icons of their previous, more malleable personalities.
As the twins, Myrna and Myra, Victoria Dicce does a bang-up job. She has great energy, plenty of versatility to make the two personalities distinct, an engaging strength mixed with touching vulnerability, and excellent line-delivery. Rachel Hynes, as Jim, the fiancÈ of Myrna, whom the "easy" Myra seduces because she can, was less successful. In a role that was already intended as a walking mannequin, her performance suffered from weak and extremely limited acting range. She impersonates a man so transparently that it amounts to the gender equivalent of blackface. Of course, Vogel wants this to be a charade, and it's a part of the theatrical stylization, but here there is nothing beneath this surface, nor does Hynes have skillful enough technique to make the surface sufficient. As a result, all of the scenes in which Myra or Myrna play against a male impersonation felt contrived and shallow. That was a fatal blow to the drama, and the theatricality. Ms. Hynes was far more successful later in the play, as Myra's lesbian partner, but the role was far less important to the play.
Likewise, the sons portrayed by Zach Lundin are serviceable, but show the inexperience and lack of training of a very young actor. The dance sequences, inventively choreographed by Amii Legendre, and quite nicely performed by Nicole Boote and Eva Osusky, were entertaining both as movement and as an enhancement to the important period pop music, but had a sometimes rather tenuous connection to the story. The direction, by Anita Montgomery, was also uneven, at times quite compelling and at other times losing tension and clarity. More than anything, though, this was an instance where workmanlike and competent direction was not enough to overcome limited acting talent, and the exceptional demands of a highly stylized, unusually demanding script. I think this is a show where nothing short of complete expertise can carry off the necessary level of sophistication.
"The Mineola Twins" was a great choice for Theatre Schmeater. Far too little of our contemporary drama has the courage of political conviction, or the imagination to step outside the lockstep style of naturalism. The debate of this play, the issues of gender and lifestyle and political constraint, are compelling, but I found its proponents too extreme in every instance to make it feel like anything but a cartoon or a caricature. Beyond that, behind the invigorating theatrical imagination, too much of it felt like an expository political tract, all moral absolutism and codified manifesto. Paula Vogel is one of the freshest, most passionate and provocative of our current playwrights, and she is capable of illuminating contemporary society in brilliantly creative and tantalizing ways. But neither this play nor this production presents the best of her work.
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