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Review: A familiar divisiveness colors The Mineola Twins

The good thing about seeing a play a week into its production is it can give the director and actors time to make adjustments and get into their groove. The not-so-great thing, at least for Cockroach Theatre’s The Mineola Twins, is that by the time this review publishes, the election will be the-day-before-yesterday’s news, which could impact this particular production’s one chunk of relevance.

Written by Paula Vogel in the late ’90s, The Mineola Twins isn’t a political play, per se, but the social history of American women that Vogel set out to explore nearly 15 years ago couldn’t be more relevant to our election politics today (which, frankly, is sad news for everyone). The same divisive blue-versus-red battle we swing-staters know all too well takes center stage here — and it’s being waged by the same actress, Shanti Leone, in a demanding dual role.

The play visits the twins over several decades, from Eisenhower to Bush (Sr.), each era delivered by lengthy set changes involving sound bites and video stills. Polar opposites Myrna and Myra are physically identical in every way but their wigs and cup size. Myrna’s a Bible-thumping prude; Myra’s the whore of Babylon. Their extremes are so much so, they stretch their way back into mirror images of one another — which, owing again to our current election climate, serves as the play’s mightiest political metaphor. Both use re-interpretations of Biblical tales to serve their own purpose, and both resort to drastic measures to shove their beliefs on others.

Leone’s portrayal of Myrna, the right-wing conservative half of the dynamic duo, could easily be dismissed as a toss-away, abortion-clinic-burning, anti-multiculturalistic, homophobic caricature. But the fact is, we live in a world where Sarah Palin really exists, as do Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan — which makes these onstage cardboard cutouts spouting flat, party-line ideologies all the more real. But it still begs the question: Do we want to spend time with them in a black-box theater? Shanti’s exuberance and versatility as an actress makes us think we do at moments … but it’s a challenge even she struggles to maintain.

While Vogel may have intended for the secondary characters, including a dual, multigender role played by Tara Lynn, to be played equally stereotypical, I question director Joe Hynes’ choice to err on the side of overboard. Time wasted on perfecting their face-contortioning theatrics may have been better spent making them, if not real, at least somewhat understated, to better highlight the utter cartoonishness of the twins’ narrow worldviews — which, in the end, was the one relevant point I could draw from this play.

THE MINEOLA TWINS Thu-Sat, 8 p.m., Sun 2 p.m., through Nov. 18; Cockroach Theatre, 1025 S. First St., www.cockroachtheatre.com, $15-$18