It's no wonder that actress Cathy Dresbach looked disappointed during her second night curtain call for In Mixed Company's The Mineola Twins. Although she'd delivered a fine performance in a splendid production, much of Paula Vogel's knotty dialogue had fallen, that night, on deaf ears. The audience had responded tentatively to much of this smart, over-the-top send-up of women's issues.
The Mineola Twins was Vogel's first work following her 1997 Pulitzer Prize for How I Learned to Drive. (When Mineola debuted last year at New York's Roundabout Theater, it was rumored that Vogel had dusted off an old script in order to cash in on her recent high profile.) The playbill describes the show as "a comedy in six scenes, four dreams, and seven wigs," and notes that "there are two ways to produce this play: 1) with good wigs; or 2) with bad wigs. The second way is preferred." Either way, the story is about nearly identical twins Myrna and Myra, who duke it out through the Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan/Bush eras, scrapping about the virtues of virginity, drug culture and abortion rights. We meet them as teenagers in the timid '50s, when Myrna is a naive, compliant Future Homemaker of America, and Myra is a slutty scoundrel who detests Mineola, the suburban hell where Vogel has trapped both girls.
The line the girls drew down the middle of their childhood bedroom becomes the line that separates them ideologically as adults. Myra and Myrna are meant to symbolize two sides of a politically divided nation (an unintentionally timely theme, given the current Bush-Gore mess), and there's no mistaking Vogel's position. While she offers leftist and right-wing caricatures, her criticism of conservatism plays louder. Hippies and free thinkers take some shots, but it's Vogel's Republicans, chauvinists and bomb-toting conformists who come off as bigger dopes. Although trampy Myra ends up a yippie revolutionist, and later a lesbian leader of the local Planned Parenthood, it's right-wing Myrna who becomes violent. She's a teenage virgin turned stay-at-home Supermom who, by play's end, has become a Dr. Laura-like talk-show hostess who murders pro-abortionists.
The Mineola Twins
Phoenix Theatre's Little Theatre, 100 East McDowell.
Continues through Saturday, December 23. Call 602-254-2151.
As both Myra and Myrna, Dresbach is magnificent. Perhaps the only performance more entertaining than the one she brings to the stage is the one that presumably takes place backstage, where she transforms herself with breakneck speed from one twin to the other. But Dresbach doesn't rely on costuming to delineate her Mineola twins: While both are played as broad caricatures, Myra is faster and funnier, crazy Myrna more subtly insane.
The odious conceit of having an actress play Myrna's boyfriend and later Myra's lesbian lover is written into the script, probably as a means of pointing out that we fall in love with the same people time and again. Razel Wolf is fine as the girlfriend, but is entirely unconvincing as Myrna's Jim, who looks like a 12-year-old boy in his stick-on mustache and ugly toupee.
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The rest of Claudia Breckenridge's wig designs deserve star billing, as do David Vaught's dreamlike lighting tricks. The production's cartoonish quality is enhanced by Paul Wilson's zany set pieces (displayed against Michael P. Brooks' gorgeous op-art backdrop) and costumes, which pay homage to the very worst fashion and decorating trends of the last several decades. Bill Osborne has designed an impressive collection of sounds and period music, all of it played too loudly in this smallish theater space.
These elements are brought together skillfully by director Kevin Kerrigan, who should be handed a palm just for orchestrating the show's quick costume changes. Kerrigan has directed several plays for IMCO, but this one is the first, in my experience, that he's gotten exactly right. He's coaxed distinctly different performances from an ensemble who all play dual roles, and provides the production with just the right tone of curdled good cheer. The result unfurls like a satirical tour of political positions brought to you by the good folks at Westinghouse.
I'm told that subsequent audiences have been more responsive to The Mineola Twins than the crowd with whom I saw the show. That's good, because this difficult piece -- a welcome antidote to the holiday fare playing on nearly every other stage this week -- probably won't be seen here again anytime soon.