An Earnest Mess: TWINS

Photo Credit: Boston Actors Theatre Facebook page

Presented by Boston Actors Theater
By Julian Olf
Directed by Anna Trachtman

September 6th – September 21st, 2013
Boston Playwrights Theater
Boston, MA
Boston Actors Theatre on Facebook

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Boston) In his memoir It Would be So Nice if You Weren’t Here, the actor Charles Grodin gleefully revels in his few dismal failures as an actor, including a critique of a scene study given by a famed acting coach where she cut down most of his work on stage.  There was one moment, however, where Grodin and his fellow actor got confused about who was supposed to take a folder, and that moment, she said, was pure acting.  (Think of the frustration one must feel upon hearing such an utterance.)

I bring this up because the play Twins has a lot of problems, despite good lead actors and an imaginative script.  But just as the whole thing should descend into a mess of unexpected party guests and unbelievable plot twists, in walks the actress Maureen Adduci, playing Mrs. Higgins.  Her short scene shouldn’t have worked; it was essentially a monologue by a generically-drawn conservative Southerner in a script that had yet to reveal any depth in its characters.  Instead, Adduci commits and creates these wonderfully uncomfortable moments where a mother heartbreakingly dresses down her son and leaves, and we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The term “show-stopping” is utilized to describe everything from high school musical numbers where everyone remembers their blocking to Elton John encores, but this was a moment I am glad I did not miss.  Adduci was there just a few minutes and then was gone, and the stage was better for her presence.

Unfortunately, not everyone else can kill it by rising above playwright Julian Olf’s  source material, which has the plot points of a sitcom but the earnestness of undergraduate-written college theater.  What’s most frustrating is that Olf clearly shows potential and imagination with the premise: a homophobic and racist gambler, Ernie (James Bocock) finds his gay twin brother dead from AIDS and decides to assume his identity to help the deceased brother’s foreign-born wife, Zaida (Jennifer Regan) obtain permanent residency in the U.S.   Heck of an idea if you can pull it off, but it would have taken better writing and pacing than Olf and director Anna Trachtman can provide.  Instead, it feels like Bocock and Regan, both strong actors, never have the time on stage to make the hairpin character turns needed to make such a plot work.  Instead, we’re asked as an audience to believe what they’re doing for the sake of believing, and are given empty gambling metaphors to explain away the yawning chasms in character arcs.

It doesn’t help that the play is supposed to feature an Arab Christian family from Lebanon; we know this because they say it on stage, only.  There are no other authentic attempts to create this complex culture that should clash with the poor, white Southern family we know so well in American fiction.  (It’s never a good thing if the program for your show has to explain a plot point about ethnicity, FYI.)

One can only hope this isn’t a finished script and that Olf can smooth it out.  Right now it reads like a cross between Green Card and “Three’s Company”.  As we’ve seen with Adduci’s performance, there’s a lot of potential here for something messy and great, but Twins falls well short of the mark now.

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