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Sisterhood Is Comical

Paula Vogel movingly conjures sibling competition -- and still manages to get the laugh.

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Paula Vogel's not-quite-new The Mineola Twins (originally The Minnesota Twins) is neither top- nor bottom-drawer Vogel, though it is written in good part from her drawers. The mind and the crotch have harmoniously collaborated in this her most openly lesbian play, and what emerges is more than a campy piece in which three women play six parts, three of them male.

It is about sisterhood -- literally and figuratively -- and how very different, indeed antithetical, women may bond together despite their animosities, and what they can give to, as well as get from, one another's male offspring. It proclaims sisterhood beautiful even at its most acrimonious, and that someday, though not quite yet, all women may live in peace together despite divergent sexualities and warring ideologies.

Fundamentally, it is the story of how the twins Myrna and Myra, from a middle-class home in Mineola, fared through the Eisenhower, Nixon, and Bush eras. It is about the internecine hatred of these near-identical opposites: Myrna, conventional, bourgeois, reactionary; Myra, rebellious, promiscuous, radical. And yet somehow alike. All through high school, young womanhood, and early middle age, they -- sometimes bitterly, sometimes cheerfully -- detest each other (including stealing each other's sons and lovers) while also being joined at deeper than skin, or even bone, level.

Vogel writes farce here, and the jokes come thick and fast. They are based on true knowledge of the periods chronicled -- of their mores, mentalities, media, language, and artifacts. Many of the gags are recycled or ersatz, often fished out of waters depleted by too many anglers. Some, however, mocking old bromides and rituals (especially sexual ones), manage to squeeze fresh laughs out of old fallacies, old prejudices that can still use a swift kick in the behind to speed them along their all-too-foot-dragging way.

What helps the play enormously is the letter-perfect production. Joe Mantello, a passable actor, is rapidly developing into an unsurpassable director of a type of (usually homosexual) comedy, to which he brings steady sophistication, resourcefulness, and effervescence. I suspect that a good quarter of Mineola is Mantello. But there are also bubbly contributions from the sets of Robert Brill and Scott Pask, the costumes of Jess Goldstein, the lighting of Kevin Adams, and the sound of David Van Tieghem.

And then there's the acting. As the twins, Swoosie Kurtz lets her exemplary facial play, timing, inflection, and body language perform double miracles in antipodal roles, and makes clear her mastery of every term in the comedian's lexicon. She is expertly supported, especially in a hilarious male part, by Mo Gaffney, whom I have always viewed as Kathy Najimi's better half, and who, on her own, is two whole lots of fun. And playing a pair of opposed sisters' totally reversed sons, Mandy Siegfried proves herself a young comedienne who'll duly knock them dead from Mineola to Minnesota. The Mineola Twins may be satire listing toward sitcom, but for once I understood why people around me were laughing.


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