Open Stage Theatre is a cerebral company. It likes plays with big themes, lots of scene changes, dozens of characters and wigs. It routinely tests the mental and physical stamina of its actors. Open Stage plays aren't about small talk in empty rooms; they tend toward broader canvases, like Puritan New England, Nazi Germany and the entire life of Richard Burton. Their characters are always kooky, their visions hallucinogenic. And thus, like clockwork, we have The Mineola Twins, by Paula Vogel.
Myra and Myrna are twin sisters. They are opposites in every way -- one is as old-fashioned as Betty Crocker, the other wears Che Guevara T-shirts. They start as teen-agers in the 1950s, and we watch their lives unfold for three additional decades. Each sister bears a son, and each son yearns for the other mother. Each sister is fanatical about her ideal, and this fanaticism destroys them both. The moral: Fanaticism is an empty impulse that leads to madness. Let us dust our hands. We've cut another notch in the bedpost of humanist lessons.
The Mineola Twins is funny and charming and droll, and you won't be disappointed at all -- unless you've seen Paula Vogel's other play, How I Learned to Drive. In this other, vastly superior play, Vogel humanized an incestuous child molester and indicted him on his own terms. She stabbed to death the cult of Southern debutantism, and there were even some jokes along the way. The drama astounded critics and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. By comparison, The Mineola Twins is Baby Boomer claptrap, feminist detritus, liberal masturbation. It's a lecture posing as a story, and we've heard it all before.
That said, Open Stage has produced a quality rendition. Beth Steinberg's period costumes look marvelous beneath Jeremy Rolla's lighting. One of Mineola's many gimmicks is that one actress plays Myra and Myrna, and must appear in every scene. Jessica Kennedy meets to the challenge, and an alert audience should relish her every one-liner.
Then there's the other big gimmick: Jim, the boyfriend of Myrna who cheats on her with Myra. In this production, straight-edge Jim is played by a woman -- Diana Ifft, who seems to have a career in stealing shows. She instinctively dominates her every scene, impersonating male egotism, male sexual frustration and male post-coital guilt as well as any male actor. In the script, the twins are only archetypes, and Jim has more personality than Myra and Myrna combined. Kennedy does all the toilsome work and Ifft gets the credit. Isn't that just like a man?
The Mineola Twins continues thru Feb. 17. Open Stage Theatre, 2835 Smallman St., Strip District. 412-394-3353 or www.openstagetheatrepittsburgh.org.