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A CurtainUp Review

The Mineola Twins

It's not for nothing that Swoosie Kurtz is named after an airplane (designed by her dad). She rotates from being a good twin named Myrna and a bad twin named Myra (created by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Paula Vogel) with the speed of a propeller. Her high velocity costume, wig and personality changes deserve a distinguished flying cross.

As Myra and Myrna zoom through three decades of feminine experience,   Ms. Kurtz never misses a beat as she switches from twin to twin. Her gift for comic overstatement suits both the town tramp who becomes a revolutionary feminist and the look-alike (except for her monumental mammaries) conservative. Well, perhaps the uptight Myrna does get the funniest scene medal, first as the teenager whose passionate lovemaking with her boyfriend Ken (Mo Gaffney) leaves her virginity intact and him in a state of painful immobility and as the suburban matron whose dream of married bliss immobilizes her -- in a mental hospital. Instead of a pitiable Olivia DeHavilland in The Snake Pit, a straight-jacketed Myrna-Swoosie breaks into a hilarious dance macabre, joined by two hospital attendants (Daniel Sherman and Jimmy Holder -- who throughout the play act as a male version of a 50s song-and-dance back-up group).

Casting the gifted Ms. Kurtz as the star of The Mineola Twins is just one of director Joe Mantello's smart moves in staging Ms. Vogel's comedy. The rest of the small cast as well as the production team are top notch.

Mo Gaffney and Mandy Siegfried double up, not as identical twins, but in parts that mirror Ms. Vogel's intentions: Ms. Gaffney is terrific -- first as the boyfriend who becomes a loser in life and marriage when he sparks the lifelong sibling animosity by sleeping with Myra and also when he metamorphoses into Myra's lesbian lover. Mandy Siegfried is extremely affecting as the sisters' unhappy sons Kenny and Ben.

Robert Brill and Scott Pask's bright sets, David Van Tieghem's always show-enhancing music Jess Goldstein's costumes and, of no minor significance in this play, Bobby Miller's hair designs all contribute to a zestful production. Add the variety show flavor of the quick dance interludes and The Mineola Twins is certainly a much more entertaining romp through the women's movement than Marilyn French's serious and ponderous 80s novel ,The Women's Room, which also started out on Long Island and had a central character named Mira Ward.

All this is not to say that Miss Vogel has abandoned her more serious side to the urge to tickle our funny bone. Myra and Myrna are not simply takeoffs on easily identified poster girls for female conservatism and rebellion. Their twinship seems the playwright's way for pointing to the way extremes -- no matter at what end of the political spectrum -- create the same loss of civilized control.

The twins are thus not just two very different seedlings of the feminist movement, but broader symbols of how the Eisenhower-Nixon-Reagan-Bush split the entire nation's family unity into widely opposite factions . The Mineola water tower which overhangs Myra and Myrna's trip through the decades is a sort of watered down White House dome.

Myra and Myrna are for all their differences inextricably linked by their sibling bond. Even as they stand at extreme ends of the feminist spectrum they are alike in their intense and immoderate behavior -- and in the end the bond of their less zealous youth prevents the ultimate disaster.

For a while the funny mirror Ms. Vogel holds up to the audience promises to deliver that mix of goofball comedy and message that makes for that most difficult of all genres, the solid satire. Unfortunately, somewhere along the second act the familiarity of the sources tends to make the dialogue a little less funny and gives one a sense that the clever staging is working too hard to keep the message and farcical romp elements from being as much at odds with each other as Myra and Myrna. Ultimately it also weakens the stylishly dressed and coifed twins. They're fun but, even with Ms. Kurtz's spendid portrayal, but more archetypical than unforgettably human and real like Little Bit and Uncle Peck form How I Learned To Drive.

By Paula Vogel.
Directed by Joe Mantello
Starring Swoosie Kurtz and Mo Gaffney With: .Mandy Siegfried Daniel Sherman, and Jimmy Holder.
Set design: Robert Brill and Scott Pask
Costume design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting design: Kevin Adams
Sound design: David Van Tieghem
Hair Design: Bobby Miller
Musical Staging: Ken Roberson
Roundabout/ Laura Pels Theatre, 1530 Bway, at 45th St. (212/ 719-1300)
Performances from 1/19/99-5/02/99; opened 2/18/99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 2/19 performance

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