- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

Actress Sarah Marshall is two good reasons to see “The Mineola Twins.” With seemingly bottomless invention, she plays both siblings, the “good twin,” Myrna, and the bad seed, Myra.

These gals from Mineola, N.Y., bicker and blaze through the Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan-Bush years.

Myrna has the figure of Jayne Mansfield and the politics of Anita Bryant. All she ever wanted to be was a Maxwell House wife, making casseroles, raising children and being a dutiful and chaste helpmate.

However, the America of the 1960s through the ‘80s had other plans in store for this Long Island version of Betty Crocker.

Her sister, Myra, was born to be rad. After cutting a sexual swath through high school, Myra goes whole hog on the love, peace and anarchy message of the ‘60s — a move that lands her in jail. Myra fits the liberal stereotype to a tie-dyed T — she is humorless, flat-chested and joylessly polysexual.

The play follows the twins — who may have shared a womb but are sworn enemies — down their wildly divergent paths. Myrna copes with mental illness, divorce and control issues over her son Kenny (Josh Lefkowitz) until she finds her footing in the 1980s on talk radio as an angrier version (if that’s possible) of Dr. Laura and G. Gordon Liddy. In her spare time, she bombs abortion clinics.

Her sister, Myra, on the other hand, has embraced the lesbian lifestyle with her partner, Sarah (MaryBeth Wise), and their son, Ben (Mr. Lefkowitz again). She works at a nonprofit and is a champion of abortion rights and feminism.

Playwright Paula Vogel wrote “The Mineola Twins” in the 1990s, and it shows. It is an extreme play about extreme people, and by trying to be topical about the urgent issues of its moment, the script has become uncomfortably dated.

The play could be seen as a rallying call to liberals, but really, both parties are so intent on moving toward centrist stances that harping on political affiliation seems old-fashioned, so last century.

What conclusions are we to draw about Myrna and Myra? Myrna may look and act like Doris Day, but Miss Vogel has given her such a cruel streak that she comes off as a barely contained psychopath. While Miss Marshall has a field day capturing the self-consciously demure movements and pinched demeanor of Myrna, the character is such a caricature of a conservative that there is no room for the audience to have fun with her other than to hoot derisively at her derangement.

Myra, with her grand embracing of chaos, may be the troublemaker in the equation, but she clearly is the sympathetic one. Instead of resisting the change of the decades, Myra flung herself full-bore into the fray. She made many mistakes, but she has emerged still full of conviction and in a loving relationship with both her partner and her son. (Myrna’s bonds with her son are strained, naturally.)

Yet Myra seems as liable as her sister to zoom off the radar into insanity. And is her appetite for experience to be automatically deemed commendable and heroic, or is she just plain selfish, an adrenaline junkie who finally runs out of vitriol?

“The Mineola Twins” contains many laughs, most of them stemming from Miss Marshall’s nimble, quick-changing performance. The rest of the cast is quite lively, especially Miss Wise in the dual roles of Sarah and Jim, Myrna’s high school sweetheart.

Yet the play has an undercurrent of rancor and bitterness that cancels the laughs’ sweetness.

There is something off-putting about the black-and-white political agenda pounded home by Miss Vogel, who normally writes works of wit and grace.

Director Darryl V. Jones gamely tries to prop up the levity by pepping up the scene changes with decade-appropriate dancing by Eduardo Placer and Erika Rose. There also is a Sputnik-like satellite that merrily burbles over the revolving set.

Without Miss Marshall, “The Mineola Twins” would be a dreary business indeed.

**1/2

WHAT: “The Mineola Twins” by Paula Vogel

WHERE: Woolly Mammoth Theater Company at Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 5.

TICKETS: $24 to $39

PHONE: 202/393-3939

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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