Emily B. Hecht ’11 stars as both Myra and Myrna in “The Mineola Twins,” an HRDC production that explores the depths of political and familial ties.
Ever heard that America is divided between the right and the left, the culture and the counterculture? Just in case you haven’t, Paula Vogel’s “The Mineola Twins,” which runs in the Loeb Ex through Oct. 27, is happy to remind you.
In this play, directed by Jeremy R. Steinemann ’08 and produced by James Smith ’10, twin sisters Myra and Myrna (both played by Emily B. Hecht ’11) are largely stereotypes of their respective political positions. The production only gains momentum when the characters are allowed to break free of these labels.
“The Mineola Twins” consists of six scenes, one depicting each twin in three different Presidential administrations (Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush) as well as scattered dream sequences. The twins, Myra and Myrna, are polar opposites: Myra is the rebellious one, tending toward promiscuity, drugs, and radicalism, while Myrna prefers conformity and housewifery. They violently hate each other, but have a strong connection: not only are they played by the same actress, they also tend to share dreams and hear each others’ voices at moments of crisis.
The theme of complementarity is reinforced by the twins’ rebellious sons (both played by Daniel V. Kroop ’10). Myrna’s is radical and Myra’s is conservative; each seeks refuge with his aunt. Rounding out the cast is the principal love interest: Julia T. Havard ’11 plays Jim as the romantic foil for both characters in the 1950s. Havard also plays Sarah, Myra’s lover after she inexplicably becomes gay some time in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, the double casting is one of the few interesting things about the play. Despite occasional moments of deeper meaning or true hilarity, “The Mineola Twins” largely hits period stereotypes. In its comedic moments, the show evokes chuckles rather than real laughs from Myra’s idolization of Beat poetry or Myrna’s inability to distinguish between distant figures in the newspapers, like Arthur Miller or Stalin.
The Eisenhower era scenes in “The Mineola Twins” are especially guilty of speechifying first and dealing with plot and character development second, and as a result the characters’ emotional shifts are at times confusingly erratic.Steinemann has the actors portray these transformations from casual chatting to nervous breakdown with mixed effects: Hecht does quite well with these extremes, especially as Myrna; as Jim, Havard is much stronger in quieter, more serious or desperate moments than at these points of excitement or panic.
Hecht’s facility for breakdowns is part of what makes the Nixon administration scenes the strongest. While this section also suffers from trite politicizing—Myra’s declaration that one day her slogans will seem naïve isn’t really prescient if it was written decades later—the play, and Steinemann’s directing, is much more focused on the characters, and the show is stronger for it. Myrna reveals a bit of a psychotically vicious streak that makes her far more entertaining, while Myra robs a bank and attempts to flee to Canada. Both plotlines allow Hecht to shine as she teeters on the edge of mania, while Kroop, as Myrna’s son Kenny, has the largely thankless task of being quietly nonplussed by the former and impressed by the latter.
This momentum mostly continues through the scenes of “The Mineola Twins” set during the Bush administration (presumably the first; the play was written in the 1990s). In these sections, the twins exchange roles; Myrna is now the political one as a conservative talk radio host while Myra lives a peaceful domestic life.
Kroop performs admirably as Myra’s bitter, borderline-fascist son Ben, delivering several jaw-dropping speeches that contrast nicely with his passivity as Kenny.
The set (designed by Mollie M. Kirk ’07-’08) does a fine job of evoking the different time periods covered in “The Mineola Twins” with spare, but effective furnishings. The lighting (designed by Mary E. “Ellen” Stebbins ’08) is particularly impressive during dream sequences for each of the twins, skillfully creating a sense of disorientation.
Somewhere buried beneath all the political themes in “The Mineola Twins,” a fascinating drama about a dysfunctional family is trapped and trying to get out. The Loeb Ex production conveys both of these aspects effectively, although the result never quite coalesces. —Reviewer Elisabeth J. Bloomberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.