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Release: March 10, 2000

'Mineola Twins' zooms through three decades of female experience

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University Theatres Second Stage series will present Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel's "The Mineola Twins," a campy satire that zooms through three decades of changing American gender roles, opening at 8 p.m. Friday, March 24 in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Additional performances of the production, directed by UI theatre arts faculty member Meredith Alexander, will be at 8 p.m. March 25, 26 and 31 and April 1, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 2.

Myra and Myrna are nearly identical twins -- appearing alike in all respects except that one is "flat as a pancake" and the other is "stacked" -- swimming together in the small pond of Mineola, N.Y., a Long Island suburb.

In the UI production both sisters are portrayed by a single performer -- Bari Newport in her Master of Fine Arts thesis role -- just as both were played by comedienne Swoozie Kurtz in the New York production.

As they live through the Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan eras -- in a theatrical whirlwind represented in the subtitle "A Comedy in Six Scenes, Four Dreams and Seven Wigs" -- the sisters' personal and political directions are as opposite as their mammary endowments. Chesty Myrna is the "good" girl who teases but never "puts out," and who uncritically conforms to the conventional mold of '50s femininity. But Myra is a gum-snapping, promiscuous rebel who continuously tests and challenges the boundaries of femininity and propriety.

The "good" twin, embittered by her life, men and her sister, and traumatized by mental illness and electro-shock therapy, becomes the hate-spewing host of a radical-right radio talk show. The "bad" sister emerges from drugged-out hippiedom, revolutionary militancy and even imprisonment to become the caring lesbian director of a family planning clinic.

Michael Feingold wrote in the Village Voice, "Plautus, Shakespeare, Goldoni, Anouilh: Everyone loves the confusion and the occult aura generated by identical twins. It took Paula Vogel, though, to see them as a perfect image for America's peculiarly schizophrenic culture."

Vogel agrees that the twins symbolize two sides of a divided nation, drawing a special sharpness in a particularly contentious political season. "Democrat and Republican alike, despite pretensions of civility, are not talking to each other," she says. "They are not listening; they are reacting. We do not progress; we regress. So we may as well laugh about it."

A review of "The Mineola Twins" in the on-line journal Curtain Up concluded, "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 what end of the political spectrum -- create the same loss of civilized control."

Vogel is the founding director of Brown University's graduate playwriting workshop. Her plays include "And Baby Makes Seven," the 1992 Obie Award-winning "The Baltimore Waltz," "Desdemona," "Hot and Throbbing," "The Oldest Profession" and "How I Learned to Drive," which won the Pulitzer Prize.

"There were a lot a headlines, 'Lesbian wins Pulitzer, blah, blah, blah,'" Vogel says. "I am the first person to say, hey, wait, I'm not here to make everyone else feel homophobic; I'm homophobic. I was brought up in this country. I was taught to hate gays. I was taught to hate women. What we are taught to hate unifies us as a society. Our communal bond is that we are all racist, not just whites. Blacks are racist. Latinos are racist… So it's not clear-cut to me: Here is the good guy and here is the bad guy. You can't deport the enemy; the enemy is inside us."

This ambiguity is expressed in "The Mineola Twins," which could easily have been a shallow political melodrama. As the Village Voice review observes, "Vogel can only sum up our screwy nation, in this perplexing half century, through images of contradiction.

"'Good' Myrna, who accepts conventional values unquestioningly, becomes a hideous person, but that doesn't mean all conventional values are wrong, or that Myrna deserves the hell we see her suffer. 'Bad' Myra's wider range of experience makes her a somewhat wiser and happier person, ultimately, but her road to reason is littered with unrepaired wrongs and unresolved griefs that are still dogging her in her last scene."

Director Alexander says, "After directing Vogel's 'Baltimore Waltz' at a professional theater a few years ago, I was attracted to another example of her extraordinary talent in turning huge topics inside out through a wicked sense of humor."

Other artistic contributors to "The Mineola Twins" are set designer Lea Logsdon, costume designer Joyce McKinley, lighting designer Ethan Bade and sound designer Sarah Claypool.

Tickets for "The Mineola Twins" will be $7 ($4 for UI students and senior citizens) at the door. Tickets will go on sale one hour before curtain time.

For information and calendar updates on UI arts, visit <http://www.uiowa.edu/~uiowacr> on the World Wide Web.

(NOTE TO EDITORS: You can reach director Meredith Alexander through the UI Department of Theatre Arts office, 319-335-2700.)