Sure, they may laugh alike - and, granted, they may talk alike - but Twin Studies, a pastiche of four short plays presented by The Actors Institute, found plenty of room for conflict within all this selfsame behavior. The individual pieces, penned by Suzanne Bachner and Elizabeth Anne Sullivan, are more animated portraits than free-standing dramatic works: they present varied snapshots of those who ride tandem through life. In a brilliant move of intercalation, directors David Leidholdt and Gwenn Morreale crafted a knock-the-wind-out-of-you event, alternatively zany and meditative, yet always full of wit and never lagging in pace.
But the bulk of the production's success generated from its near flawless ensemble of performers, who held the audience with a level of confidence and energy rarely achieved in shorter pieces. At times this intensity trod into the realm of caricature, yet always to positive effect, boosting the grotesque hilarity of the production.
The scenes explored the gamut of twin combinations, from the realistic (identical twins separated at birth; fraternal twins playing Battleship) to the campy (two friends decked out as a pair of "Maryanns" from Gilligan's Island hoping to pick up "Professors" at a trendy Mexican bar) to the purely absurd (the existential reflections of two Suzi-Q dolls cohabiting the same dollhouse). Aaron Spivey's superb lighting design literally cast a different color upon each piece, cleverly distinguishing among this broad spectrum of characters and styles, while Regina Garcia's functional set utilized mixed levels to this same end. The costumes, designed by Nadia Volvic, were punchlines for the production's humor, especially the vividly matching garb donned by the Suzi-Qs and the Maryanns.
There were several stand-out performances, notably Felicia Scarangello and Laura J. Burns as the pair of dolls in Sullivan's Suzi-Q Reflections: Pink with Envy. Their automatous movements and plastic grins, coupled with an impeccable sense of comic timing, translated into an ever-surprising series of interactions. Stacey Tomassone perhaps stole the show with her portrayal in Maryanns by Bachner: through suggestive winks to the fourth wall and the mantra, "Suck!," her Maryann commanded a darkly sexual edge. Danny Wiseman and Anna Cody were lovable as the brother/sister duo in Horsie Bob Gets Sick, by Sullivan, although the scene felt slightly out of place. While the other plays were largely stylistic, often delivered directly to the audience, this scene felt comparatively claustrophobic in its naturalism.
Dominique Bousquet had the added challenge of portraying both identical twins in The Interview. The distinctions between Penny and the more belligerent Sam were always apparent, yet Bousquet also brought out many of their common traits, exploring the subtle nuances of sisterhood. The most episodic and innovative of the scenes, Bachner's script led the audience to a sober and unresolved conclusion.
It seems appropriate that an evening of duos emerged from the collaboration of two writers and two directors. The Actors Institute proved that two is company, and Twin Studies featured some of the highest production values Off Off-Broadway in recent memory. Also featuring Russell Hamilton and Sarah Israel.
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Copyright 1999 Andrew Eggert