Usually, a farce — that light comic genre with an improbable plot, zany characters, slamming doors and the like — is not about anything much, just pure entertainment. But that’s not so in estimable playwright Paula Vogel’s “The Mineola Twins,” the three-actor, multiple-character play opening Cutting Ball Theater’s season.
Identical twins Myrna and Myra are growing up in the 1950s in small-town Mineola, Long Island (which, complains restless Myra, is so dull there isn’t even a red scare there).
They possess diametrically opposite personalities: Myrna’s the perfect little uptight, virginal homemaker-to-be; Myra declares, “I’m going to live my life doing everything people tell me I can’t do!”
Myra goes on to become a radical feminist lesbian, Myrna a conservative, anti-abortion traditionalist who wants to take multiculturalism out of the schools.
Although the play was first produced back in 1996, and we follow the twins only as far as the Bush administration, it’s relevant to today’s deep cultural-political divide that is surely severing ties between family members nationwide.
It’s a satire, but a farce as well, complete with slamming doors, bad wigs, disguises and general hysteria.
And when teenage Myra (nicknamed “the whore of Babylon”) seduces Myrna’s “special older man” fiancé, the rift between the two is complete, mirroring the rift that will split the nation during the women’s movement, the impending Vietnam War (and, as we now know, beyond).
Playing the two clearly differentiated twins, Elissa Beth Stebbins is terrific, as is Sango Tajima playing, in the first act, Myrna’s horny fiancé and in the second act, Myra’s lesbian lover, Sarah. Steven Thomas, as the anxious teen sons of Myra and Myrna— each, inevitably, choosing a political mindset opposite to his mother’s — also is great.
Under Ariel Craft’s carefully detailed direction, the comic business is carried out flawlessly: perfect timing, complete with a few well-executed pratfalls, little pantomimed entre’acts, well-chosen sound effects with period-perfect songs (sound design by Sara Witsch) and other frills.
Still, the exaggerated cartoony-ness of Myrna and her fiancé, in contrast to the more naturalistic depiction of Myra, is unsettling.
Vogel, in her stage directions, specifies that all characters except Sarah be played in a state of “high hormonal excitement,” but Craft goes overboard with highly choreographed zaniness.
Appropriate for farce it may be, but for Vogel’s play, which so cleverly juxtaposes the personal with the political and ends on a wistful note, this otherwise polished production tries too hard to be funny.
The Mineola Twins
Presented by Cutting Ball Theater
Where: Exit, 277 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 29
Tickets: $15 to $45
Contact: (415) 525-1205, www.cuttingball.com Ariel CraftCutting BallElissa Beth StebbinsMineola TwinsPaula VogelSango TajimaSteven ThomasTheater