Muddy Water Theatre continues their season devoted to playwright Paula Vogel with her work The Mineola Twins, and it's an interesting piece that covers a period of around 40 years in the lives of two very different twins, Myra and Myrna. The play is, at times, very funny and wryly examines the changing roles of women during the time that's covered, focusing primarily on three different presidential terms, including those of Eisenhower, Nixon and George Bush, Sr. It's certainly no coincidence that those are all conservative eras, and it definitely skews the attitudes and humor that abound. This production is amusing and occasionally touching, and it's definitely worth a look.
Myrna, the so-called "good twin", portrayed as an extreme conservative, looks exactly like her sibling, with the exception of her breasts, which are exceptionally large. Myra, on the other hand, the "evil twin", is flat-chested and rebellious by nature. It's an peculiar juxtaposition, and your view on who is really the good or bad one may rest with your own political persuasion. As "nice" as Myrna may seem to be at first, she has a nasty streak of her own that leads to an explosive climax that tempers the play considerably. While Myra may be promiscuous, and while she may participate in a robbery that lands her in jail, she's certainly not the pariah that Myrna would have you believe she is.
The best writing from Vogel comes early on as the poodle-skirted Myrna frustrates her boyfriend Jim by denying him entry to her sexual doorway. Naturally, he seeks out the "whore of Bablyon", her sister Myra, and this just drives the wedge that already exists between them even deeper. There are parallels between their lives, including sons who are more attracted to their aunts than their own mothers. A series of dream sequences also allude to Myrna's psychiatric history that appears to have involved ECT, or "shock therapy", that Myra and their mother signed off on. By the time we reach the Bush, Sr. presidency, it would seem they've actually switched roles in some ways, with Myrna's right-wing fanaticism, and failed relationship with her son, mirroring Myra's open relationship with her lesbian lover, Sarah, and their own issues with a son who would prefer a more "normal" family.
Patty Ulrich does sharp work as Myrna/Myra, and it's fun watching her slip between the two characters, although our focus is mostly on Myrna. Thanks to the many wigs (Samantha Toledo) and costume changes (Keaton Treece), there's a fairly clear delineation between the sisters, although they've become eerily similar by the end. Jamie Marble contributes nicely with her work as both the sexually frustrated Jim, and as Myra's sympathetic lover, Sarah. Andrew Kuhlman is a bundle of repressed enthusiasm as Kenny and Ben, the twin sons from different mothers. Satia Hutton and Carrie Dougherty also add to the merriment as the chorus, providing any other characters that are necessary to the plot.
Cameron Ulrich's direction is generally well-conceived, but the pace is almost so frantic that the punchlines and emotional moments get lost in all the hubbub. Tony Anselmo's lighting sets the mood in good fashion, and he's aided greatly by the clever projections of Joshua Thomas, and the atmospheric sound design of Jerry McAdams.
The scenes set in the 1950's have a feeling like something out of a John Waters film, and to me, they actually work the best. In fact, more laughs are generated by a pre-show video of the classic atomic scare film, "Duck and Cover" than by anything that occurs during the show itself. It's also interesting to note that Vogel's script avoids any of the more liberal times and presidencies, but I suppose those didn't provide the kind of satirical ammunition she was looking for.
Though uneven in tone and execution, there's still much to enjoy in this production of The Mineola Twins by Muddy Waters Theatre, and it continues through June 26, 2011 at the Kranzberg Arts Center.