Regional Reviews: San Francisco
West Coast Premier
The Actors Theatre of San Francisco is presenting the west coast premier of Paula Vogel's comedy The Mineola Twins. The play had a successful run off-Broadway several seasons back with Swoosie Kurtz playing the role of one of the twins. This is the first time I have reviewed this young and exciting company of actors. Actors Theatre was founded in 1989 by a group of professional actors and directors who shared a common desire to produce ensemble theater works.
The theater is now in its ninth season and it has gained a reputation for producing compelling works, and they've also won a series of awards and nominations from the San Francisco press. We were interested in seeing a production from this group of actors and we were not disappointed.
I will say that Paula Vogel's play is not as good as her prior plays, How I Learned to Drive and The Baltimore Waltz. It is a thinner piece of work that borders on a fantasy fable. I thought the play was disjointed and the dream sequences at the beginning of the first and second act were unnecessary. In fact they were over the top and it jarred the flow of the play. I am sure Ms Vogel thought it would be clever to insert these dream sequences which takes place in Hell but I thought it was just over the top and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the construction of the comedy.
The story is about an almost identical physically pair of red-haired twins who are completely different from each other. They were raised in Mineola on Long Island. Myra was the bad girl who had slept with the first string of football players on the high school team and was now working on the second string. She tells her sister "I happen to like football." Myrna was the good girl. She was saving herself for her husband. She wanted to be the perfect housewife and in fact had been saving up all of her receipts for casseroles for her husband. She had over 100 different ways of serving casseroles to her intended husband. My! Wasn't he lucky to find a Stepford wife?
The action begins in the Eisenhower years and continues intoto the Bush era. We see how these two twins fare during these periods. One becomes a strong conservative, believing in apple pie, motherhood, and family life while the other becomes a terrorist. Myrna's fiance, Jim, is tired of waiting for that big night of wedded bliss, so he ends up in bed with Myra. Myrna finds out and there goes the wedding.
The scene shifts to the Nixon era where we see Myra is now escaping the police after the Patti Hearst style bank robbery. She was doing the robbery for a left wing anti-Vietnam cause. In the meantime, Myrna has undergone shock therapy for some unknown reason. Every few minutes when Myrna tried to open her mouth, static come out. Luckily this gimmick did not happen much.
Myra convinces her sister to withdraw $5000 from the bank so she can escape to Canada. This was a great scene as Myrna sends her long haired, tie-dyed son Kenny to Greenwich Village with the money. The son, who is deep into the "movement", wants to go to Canada to escape his straight-laced mother. One good scene is that Myrna, who is thirsty, is drinking a bottle of Coca Cola. The boy asked why she drinking a beverage made by a large corporation she had claimed to despise. Myrna replies, "Sometimes you gotta use the system to crush the system."
The final scenes take place during the Bush administration and Myrna has become a right wing radio talk show hostess. Myra has found the joy of lesbian love and is living with her partner. Myrna's son comes to visit his aunt. (I am not sure how Myrna got a son since it is not explained in the play.) Ben, the son, is the direct opposite of his mother. A preppy school boy in shirt and tie and a school shield on his blue blazer. He has become a straight-laced conservative 14 year boy. The ending was a little too pat for me as the two sisters are finally on the stage together and it involves a convoluted plot about bombing an abortion clinic.
Although the play itself had weak spots, the acting was superior to the play itself. Susi Damilano played Myra with smarts and a great variety of characterization. Peggy Lopipero was marvelous as Myrna, a real comic tour de force. There were just two others in the speaking cast and these male roles were played by actresses Liz Ryan and Melanie Slivka. Liz Ryan was good in the role of Jim, Myrna's finance, however, it took a little time for me to get use to her playing the male role. Melanic Slivka did a bang-up job as both Kenny, who wants to be a hippie, and finally, as the conservative Ben in horn rims and blue blazer.
The set was minimal, using back wall projections of the time and place of each era, which gave added dimension to the production. There was little furniture but the play did not need many props. The production runs until April 22.