One of a pair of older contemporary plays by female authors to open in Baltimore recently (see our review of Fabulation at Strand Theater), Paula Vogel’s “The Mineola Twins” is a pre-#metoo look at feminism, a pre-#okayboomer look at hippie counterculture, and a pre-9/11 examination of terrorism. It follows a pair of twin sisters – “good girl” Myrna and “bad girl” Myra – through three periods of their lives.
At open, we find ourselves at the twins’ high school in the sleepy Long Island suburb of Mineola, during a nuclear air raid drill. It’s the mid-1950s. There’s a boyfriend. Myrna is concerned about Myra’s new job as a cocktail waitress in New York; her beau, less so: “Greenwich Village isn’t exactly Sodom and Gomorrah,” Jim says, “I dunno, there’s an awful lot of girls there wearing pants” is Myrna’s reply. So Jim heads into town to check on things, and ensuing escapades result in the dissolution of one sister’s engagement and the other sister being slut-shamed to within an inch of her life.
Fast-forward, then, to about 1970. Despite the breakup with Jim, Myrna has earned her M.R.S. degree (with honors) and moved-on-up to Great Neck. Myra, meanwhile, is a fugitive from justice following a bank robbery that was meant to fund the activities of her subversive anti-war group. Myrna, a loudmouth member of the Silent Majority, deems blood thicker than politics and enlists her 14 year old son Kenny to help his aunt flee to Canada. Myrna is protective of him – refused to allow him to go to Woodstock – but knows that Kenny is the only relative Myra trusts. She’s also concerned by cues in her son’s behavior that might signal trouble ahead: “Only boys who grow up to be interior decorators use words like ‘mauve’,” she scolds, in the playwright’s playful salute to Tony Kushner (and the sort of joke one doesn’t tell in 2020).
… director Lindsey R. Barr has assembled a highly skilled production team and very strong cast.
Finally, another twenty years further along, we’re in the America of President Bush. No qualification of which Bush is needed, because at the time the play was written there’d only been one. In fact, the final sequence of the piece feels a lot like it’s set during that day’s idea of “present day.” Myrna is a dittohead conservative talk radio personality and jackbooted bible-thumper for “Concerned Americans for America.” Myra is out of jail, working for Planned Parenthood, and has a … not wife, that wasn’t legal yet … has a “friend,” Sarah. In a twist that feels somewhat icky, Myra in middle age is a happy (or at least contented) centrist, while Myrna is a dumpster fire – riddled with electroconvulsive therapy flashbacks, and quite likely involved in a different kind of radical underground, one which will again test her priorities and generate oodles of zany stage hijinks. Myrna is lucky, though: her brand of activism is well-heeled; no need to rob banks in order to bankroll her domestic terrorism.
At Fells Point Corner Theatre , director Lindsey R. Barr has assembled a highly skilled production team and very strong cast. Ally Ibach performs the dual roles of Myrna/Myra, doubtless expending as much energy racing through what seem like hundreds of costume changes as in her fine acting. The subtleties she delivers are lovely – one sister’s smile is reminiscent of Julianne Moore’s; the other’s of Marisa Tomei’s. That’s the kind of texture Ibach applies to what is, at times, a very broad comedy. Doublecast as ’50s BF Jim and ’90s GF Sarah, Andy Belt is a hoot. Corey Hennessey protrays both of the sisters’ sons, making him (one supposes) Vogel’s idea of the Patty Duke cousins here.
Kudos to Casey Dutt for a very dynamic and flexible fixed stage, and to sound designer Heiko Spieker, whose palette is just like a manic/sinister John Waters movie soundtrack. That’s a good thing, too, because we hear A LOT of it. Thanks to the costume changes, and a great deal of business with props and furniture moving on and off, the transitions in this production are long. The drag on pacing is unfortunate, but the show is still a tidy hour and a half, even with a (possibly unnecessary?) intermission. Besides, one assumes that by the second weekend those scene changes will tighten up.
25 years ago Paula Vogel gave us a postmodern portrait of two women and their America(s). Today, the octogenarian Myra and Myrna might look back at this portrait with a bit of a wince at the irony of its nostalgia. That’s where living in the post-post gets us.
Running Time: 92 minutes with one intermission.
Advisories: herbal cigarette smoke, slut shaming, discussion of reproductive rights, profanity.
“The Mineola Twins” appears through March 15 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann Street in Baltimore. For tickets call (410) 276-7837 or purchase online.