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Twin Peaks

Cheryl Weaver plays battling alter egos in the terrific Mineola Twins.


If you think the marriage of James Carville and Mary Matalin makes for strange bedfellows, think about the task of actor Cheryl Weaver, who plays politically opposite twin sisters in the Unicorn Theatre's zesty romp The Mineola Twins. At least the Carvilles likely have a spare room for when things get ugly.

Paula Vogel's comedic tour de force, directed with an absurdly forceful hand by Cynthia Levin, spans at least three presidential administrations, opening under the nuclear testiness of the "I Like Ike" days. Weaver plays both Myrna, a "good girl" and diner waitress who's saving herself (if barely) for marriage, and Myra, who, to put it bluntly, isn't. She's the teenage cocktail waitress whose sexual liberties (she counts her conquests in teams, not individuals), she believes, are helping her create a new kind of iconic woman for the ages. As she tells Jim (Valerie Mackey, disappearing into a character who most resembles Roger Ebert), Myrna's sexually frustrated, panty-sniffing boyfriend, whom Myra unapologetically beds, "I'm making it up from scratch."

They're not exactly the kind of twins whose weird connection causes one to be cut and the other to bleed. Their only shared language is mutual hatred. They look, though, like funhouse-mirror images of each other, with Myrna toting enormous, battleship breasts and Myra topped out with a scandalous hairstyle free of the lacquered helmet look. Weaver works like a champ to keep the ladies in separate worlds without relying on the broad or obvious. Her Myrna is twinkly and bubbly, seemingly skipping on air to the hits of the McGuire Sisters or Doris Day; Myra is the gum-snapping bad girl -- a rebel without pause.

At least their votes cancel each other out, which Vogel makes sure we understand by taking the rest of the play to political extremes. With an amazingly comprehensive sound collage (designed by Roger Stoddard) that bridges scenes with such notable sound bites as "One small step for man ..." overlaid with Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," the play moves skittishly into the Nixon years. Myrna is now the mother of Kenny (Sam Cordes), a cool hippie kid in paisley, while Myra is on the lam for politically charged illegalities. The crux of the scenes under Tricky Dick find Myra and her nephew Kenny to be flagrantly simpatico; once they take off for foreign soil together, leaving Myrna in the lurch, he's convinced he's finally found his real mother and true calling.

Bush Part One spans the last two scenes, and here Vogel's writing reaches the apex of political satire; it's bruisingly liberal and brilliantly funny. Myrna is now the arch-conservative host of a right-wing radio gabfest, where the dirtiest word that passes her lips is multiculturalism. (She spits it out like a witch from Macbeth.) She's visited at the headquarters of Concerned Americans for America by Ben (Cordes, playing a second role with a dexterity that belies his fifteen years), a rabid Young Republican who is the son of Myra and her lesbian lover, Sarah (Mackey). Myrna is fascinated with her estranged sister's sapphic life. Ben reveals with a cow-eyed swoon that he's going to grow into a Log Cabin Republican at best; he nearly salivates at the mention of a shirtless construction worker.

What is Vogel saying here except that East Coast liberals can get laughs out of bashing the right? Maybe not much, but who cares? She's mostly skewering America's double standard for women, its well-oiled Madonna-whore machine. And if you can wring humor set against such horrific events as abortion-clinic bombings, then you have free reign to write whatever someone will pay you to produce. I can't imagine a stodgy conservative finding anything funny here, but then, I don't know any.

Besides Stoddard's whip-smart sound design, there are such bravura technical turns as Jeffrey Cady's lighting design (which resembles some kind of burning ectoplasm of hell in Weaver's dream sequences); Atif Rome's farcical set design, helped by the infrequent use of the Unicorn's turntable; and Jennifer Myers Ecton's detailed costume design, which draws on the disparate decades' greatest hits without being gratingly familiar.

Postscript: Though the musical Bat Boy doesn't, at first glance, lend itself to a high school production, even a cursory read between the lines reveals that it is -- with a couple of key edits -- perfect for an ambitious drama department. Locally, the first known high school to mount the show is Raymore-Peculiar High School, where it runs December 11-14 under the direction of faculty member Mike Beahm.

"I saw it at the Unicorn seven times," Beahm says of the unpredictably heart-warming show about a half-boy, half-bat who teaches a town about acceptance and forgiveness. "At the end of the first act, I knew we could do it."

At the end of the second act, though, he was singing a different tune. The problem specifically: the song "Children, Children," which includes the lyrics We want you breathless and naked/Choose your mate, and then let's see what we create in an overt plea to intra-species coupling. In this writer's opinion, the song is the show's weakest link -- a kind of cheap pandering to the story's easily ignored subtext -- and could easily be let go, which is what Beahm has done.

"All of my students started going to the Unicorn's production and were crazy about it," Beahm says. "By the second go around, it had attained some cult status from students here, and they begged me to do it. One student said, 'If you take that [song] out, we can do it,' and I said, 'I think you're right.'"

With a few more slight edits, Beahm and his cast are ready for this week's production, which uses some props and set pieces from the Unicorn's production can be seen. "I don't think it's primarily a show to teach a great moral lesson. It's a big joke, like the Weekly World News," he says, referring to the tabloid that first "discovered" the feral creature. "But ultimately, it's about acceptance of differences, which is what high schools are supposed to be teaching."

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