Elissa Beth Stebbins As Myra And Steve Thomas As Kenny In The Mineola Twins At Cutting Ball Theater. Photo By Liz Olson

The Mineola Twins

The Mineola Twins. Dark comedy. Written by Paula Vogel. Directed by Ariel Craft. The Cutting Ball Theater, 227 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA, 94102.

Cutting Ball Theater continues its tradition of smart, often challenging new productions and fascinating re-workings with Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel’s The Mineola Twins, a clever dark comedy about the women’s movement seen through the eyes of two very dissimilar identical twins. Myra and her sister Myrna, both played in a fantastic tour de force by Elissa Beth Stebbins, represent two divergent female perspectives; from the carefully controlled Suzy Homemaker image of the Eisenhower 50’s, through the turbulent and often radical feminism of the 60’s, to the rise of conservatism and the religious right. In Vogel’s incisive farce, both sides are on display with all their faults; the characters easily identifiable while treading the fine line of comic caricature. While penned in the 1990’s, The Mineola Twins seems eerily prescient given the current political and social chasm we find ourselves in today.

At the plays start, the twins are at high school when an imminent air attack threatens. The two are supposed to assist each other and make it to the fallout shelter safe (this is after all the 1950’s duck and cover era), but these sisters harbor deep resentments that will grow deeper over the plays timelines. They’ve split their bedroom in half, a dividing line similar to the Berlin Wall, and while their sisterhood is seemingly irreparable, the twins remain dysfunctionally connected.

Elissa Beth Stebbins as Myrna and Steve Thomas as Ben in The Mineola Twins at Cutting Ball Theater. Photo by Liz Olson

Myrna is the ‘good’ twin; a virginal waitress in love with her horny boyfriend Jim (played in a gender bending role by Sango Tajima). Her vision is the Betty Crocker-June Cleaver image of the 50’s women; in the kitchen, in the bed, raising the 2.5 kids. Myra, is her polar opposite; the school slut, the wise-ass longing to escape boring Mineola and live. When she steals he sister’s man, the stage is set for a rift that last from the Eisenhower era to the first Bush. Elissa Beth Stebbins raises the acting bar with a stellar, very difficult performance as the crazed sisters.

Over the course of the play, Myra becomes radicalized, associates with poetry writing beatniks, robs a bank and becomes a lesbian. Myrna evolves into a right-wing conservative radio show host spewing her moral invective but not averse to blowing up a Planned Parenthood clinic. Theirs sons, Kenneth and Benjamin (both played wonderfully by Steven Thomas), should have been switched at birth as they both admire each other’s mothers. Sanjo Tajima is comically suited to playing the hyper-sexual Jim, an automobile adman on the fast track, exaggerating the male macho image.

Elissa Beth Stebbins as Myrna and Sango Tajima as Jimmy in The Mineola Twins at Cutting Ball Theater. Photo by Liz Olson

Director Ariel Craft has created an almost hallucinogenic stream of consciousness, with commanding voice overs and manic, almost cartoonish acting performances. Kudos to set designer Michael Lochner for his multiple level, many-doored maze; lighting designer Jacqueline Steager’s moody psychological atmosphere, Morgan Louie’s costumes and wigs and Sound Designer Sara Witsch’s wonderful sound effects.

The Mineola Twins is a polemic on polarization; the ‘me against them’ policy that divides us by our differences instead of celebrating them. Director Ariel Craft highlights the rift between the sisters to epic proportions, creating a combustible tension that can be seen not only in families today, but our nation. In the sister’s opposition, they are both flawed. Perhaps some connection, some compatibility and empathy is the answer?

 

 

 

 

Performances run through October 29th, 2017   www.cuttingball.com  415.525.1205