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Boomer Humor

Charting These Schizophrenic Modern Times Through Two Women

BED AND BROADS: Karina Ferry comforts Stephanie Ranno.

By John Barry | Posted 4/11/2007

For the baby boomers of The Mineola Twins, the future looks bright, but the apocalypse lingers just around the corner. In the opening scenes of Paula Vogel's play, two high-school lovebirds are contemplating their life together in Levittown, N.Y., the manufactured suburban middle-class haven of their wet dreams. They've also grown up being drilled to hide under their desks to protect themselves from the next Soviet-manufactured mushroom cloud. Mineola may be a comedy, but from the beginning, we're made aware of a bizarre mix of self-absorption, detachment, and paranoia that defines the baby-boomer psyche.

It makes perfect sense that Vogel's examination of this schizophrenic generation begins somewhere in the mid-'50s, just as high-school seniors are beginning to discover themselves at a fork in the road. Their choices are already laid out for their perusal: On one hand, Jack Kerouac; on the other, Julia Child. By the end of The Mineola Twins, which concludes in the '90s, the world is still teetering and the divisions are, if anything, starker than ever--but now, it's the lesbian right-to-choosers vs. the Christian wing-nut abortion-clinic bombers. The center doesn't hold, and no one misses it anyway.

The main character of the play is, appropriately, a dual personality. Myrna (Stephanie Ranno) is the well-endowed cheerleader who is already planning meals for her future husband, Jim (Terry Hickey), and their 2.5 children. Her flat-chested identical twin sister, Myra (also played by Ranno), meanwhile, is busy hanging around Greenwich Village and taking in beat poetry. You get the idea? As the play moves through the '60s and '70s, their lives take predictable turns. Myra winds up joining revolutionary movements and then mellows out, while Myrna's squeaky-clean middle-American persona unravels.

The weight of the play falls on the capable shoulders of Ranno, who juggles two roles while taking us on a psychic journey that goes in circles. You're reminded a little of Ibsen's Peer Gynt--a central character who peels away layers of personality over decades only to find nothing inside. Ranno's hyperkinetic transitions, as she changes costumes and personalities, key into the energizing impulse of the baby boomers themselves: a generation of Americans fascinated with their own self-definition.

The Mineola Twins is a comedy, and now that boomers are getting more reflective, it also deserves to be classified as part of a rapidly expanding genre: the critical history of post-war self-absorption. Maybe it's just that this reviewer saw this play on the heels of The Boomer Century--PBS's hagiography of the post-war generation--but this full-speed romp through the last 50 years does tell us a little bit about how we see ourselves. Culture is less about tradition than a fast lane through the complexities of the modern world. The '50s get squeezed into a few iconic movie stars and the first rumblings of the sexual revolution. Thanks to the occasional musical interludes during scene changes, decades are defined by musical hits, hairstyles, and occasional shifts to the Left or Right--or in both directions at once. By the end of The Mineola Twins, the boomer dynamic has really taken hold, but it appears to be on the road to nowhere.

In her excellent performance, Ranno manages to play both sides of the cultural battle against one another. Through serial costume changes and boob jobs she slips easily in and out of the familiar baby-boomer stereotypes. Myrna wants to go to secretarial school, and Myra wants to overthrow the system. Ranno permits the two to go at one another's throats without letting us forget what it is that ties them together. By the end, both characters have seesawed between sanity and insanity; at the bottom, though, they both draw power from the same source. At the end, it's clear that energy has never found an outlet, and it appears to be an inexhaustible resource.

While Ranno gets top billing, she gets some excellent support from Shane Logue, who plays Myrna's and Myra's sons. Ben is the conservative son of the hippy Myra; Ken is the somewhat liberally aligned son of the uptight Myrna. While switching between the obligatory stereotypes, Logue manages to re-create both characters as the bewildered progeny of a generation that Just Won't Shut Up. As Jim Tracey, Terry Hickey gives an appealing performance as Myrna's hapless fianc'. Finally, directory Brad Ranno makes excellent use of the intimate Spotlighters space--while this production occurs a few feet in front of the audience, it never gets in their faces.

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