You have to admit that the decision by Kathie Rasmussen Women’s Theater (KRASS) to stage Paula Vogel’s “The Mineola Twins” is looking spookily prescient.
“This show was written in 1999,” says Suzan Kurry, the actor who does double duty as the titular twins, Myrna and Myra, a pair of sisters at utter opposite ends of the political (and bra size) spectrum on everything from abortion rights to the benefits of multiculturism. “There are lines in the play about standing for the national anthem at football games.”
Holy shades of Colin Kaepernick, Batman.
Vogel’s play tracks the twins’ experiences with the women’s movement through the politically charged Eisenhower and Nixon administrations before jumping forward in time to the presidency of George H.W. Bush. As Myrna, the so-called “good” twin, Kurry gets to play a prim housewife and a conservative radio talk host. As “evil” twin Myra, she’s an abortion-rights activist and a counterculture terrorist. If it isn’t obvious already, “The Minneola Twins” is a comic satire as broad as the plains of Kansas.
To prep for the roles, Kurry made some interesting decisions as an actor. For instance, Vogel suggests in her director’s notes that Myrna is the type of conservative who talks confidently about things she doesn’t really know.
“I had to ask myself, how much research do you actually do?” says Kurry. “What things do you not want to know?”
Kurry opted to leave herself in the dark. She didn’t seek out any reviews of other productions of the play or interviews with Vogel about the script. It’s a strategy that gives her a more open perspective on both roles.
“As actors, we like to make choices,” she explains. “In this particular script, how do you reconcile the good and the evil within an entity? Myrna and Myra are more alike than they’d like to admit.”
One of the things Kurry did to help herself differentiate the two roles was to focus on the physical. Part of that is done with wigs. The play’s subtitle—“A Comedy in Six Scenes, Four Dreams, and (at least) Six Wigs”—gives away the number of wigs. In a joke meant to assist the audience (and further play up the feminine stereotypes Vogel lampoons), Myrna, the right-leaning twin, is, um, generously endowed, while Myra is not.
“It all kind of starts with the boobs for me,” jokes Kurry. “I have attached these feelings to that physical thing. It differentiates the twins both overtly and also subtly for me.”
Kurry’s not the only one in the KRASS cast puling double duty. Amy Rowland plays both Myra’s female partner, Sarah, and Myrna’s male partner, Jim. Loryn Jonelis plays the annoyed/estranged sons of each twin.
Kurry’s dual roles in “The Mineola Twins” are the latest in what’s become an mini-acting renaissance for her (She also appeared in KRASS’s last production, “Melancholy Play.”) Kurry has spent the last several years directing plays (“The Beautiful Dark,” “How I Learned to Drive” and "Morticians in Love”) rather than acting in them. Returning to the stage gives her renewed perspective.
“It’ll be interesting to see who laughs at what,” she says. “There are plenty of points during the play where I’m like, ‘Did I just say that?’’’
“The Mineola Twins” begins its second weekend this Wednesday, and runs through October 28. For ticket information, click here.
Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.