The formula for a farce has been around for a long time. Part of the reason it endures is we are comfortable with the familiar, but the Boston Actor's Theatre isn't in the habit of filling their season with the familiar. They don't produce the classic, or the latest hits from New York, and they don't do Shakespeare. They do almost exclusively original work, most of it from local playwrights.
What can you expect to see in their production of "Twins?" Expect the unexpected.
"Twins" starts out with a familiar troupe: A Lebanese woman, Zaida, wants to stay in the United States and she needs a green card. In a state of desperation, she marries a gay guy, Jonathan. Sounds like a pretty solid setup for a farce, right? We can figure out where this is going. She has a lover; he has many of them, and they live together in a small apartment in Boston.
But that whole farce takes place before the show ever begins. So do the long months where Zaida nurses Jonathan through his illness as he suffers from complications due to AIDS.
This make the play sound more like a gut wrenching drama, don't you think? Actually, a death or murder before the show starts is part of the formula for this kind of farce -- it sets up the opportunity for mistaken identity. Nevertheless, in most farce the initial death is rarely so painful and real.
The play actually begins with Jonathan's identical twin brother, Ernie, showing up at his apartment right after he has died. Now you can see the pattern. This is definitely going to be a farce. Isn't it?
Ernie didn't even know Jonathan was gay, much less that he was sick. In an overwhelming gesture of shame (or compassion) he offers to take a crash course in his brother's life, and impersonate him so that Zaida can stay in the country.
Jennifer Reagan plays the immigrant, Zaida. If you were luck enough to see Fresh Ink's mesmerizing production of "Girl Sports," you'll remember Jennifer as the brilliantly neurotic, jilted lover and real estate agent.
Regan (who has been a member of BAT since their inception 10 years ago) is not your mamma's ingénue. You know the role is supposed to be: Cute and witty, always pushing the boundaries of her sex up until the inevitable marriage at the end of the play where she submits to her femininity.
Contradictions in character, which we usually write off as an inevitability of a script that is focuses on a tightly constructed plot rather that realistic characters, are inevitable. But Regan plays these as compelling human intricacies. Strange and inconsistent, Regan doesn't make easy choices or play to the laugh lines.
For charm, we look to her male counterpart. Ernie is a gambler and a ne'er-do-well. An audience should be able to expect "farce motivations" from a character like this, namely money and sex.
With his charm and beguiling smile, James Bocock could almost be that roguish leading man that's a little rough around the edges but controllable by a good woman (think Matthew McConaughey).
But Ernie is not that guy. He's not on a quest to break the bank or bag the babe. Ernie is far more ambiguous. He seems to have plenty of money and he's not sexually interested in either women or men.
The role of Mrs. Higgins could really be awful in the hands of a less skillful actress than Maureen Adduci. This character has all the earmarks of ridiculous stereotype. You can just imagine her banging on a triangle and hollerin' for Pa and the young'ins to come in and get their vittles.
She speaks in that overly poetic, countrified language that's supposed to sound like Tennessee Williams, but more often than not sounds like "The Beverly Hillbillies." Adduci transcends this character, elevating her moment on stage into something quite remarkable and giving us one of the most moving scenes in the play.
A couple of moments in the direction really threw me off. It wasn't readily apparent Andrew Hicks was playing two separate characters. When he plays his second character, it is in a scene where the antics are at their most complex, and the characters are at their prime scheming. I thought Hicks might be his first character hired to play his second character (because in farce no one is really who they claim to be.) I may be the only one who had this problem.
The second, and more problematic piece of direction, was the choice to change the lighting and add an inconsistent, presentational device to an otherwise completely representational play.
The actors randomly strike a pose and address the audience in only one scene in the middle of the play, and then briefly at the end of the play. This device should have been used throughout or not at all. This is magnified by the fact that other moments of introversion and refection (speeches that resemble soliloquies) are dealt without lighting changes or presentational devices.
There is no doubt that "Twins" is a mistaken identity farce, but complex characters and interesting plot twists make us doubt everything else. This show gives us all we expect and also somehow none of those things.
Sept. 6th - 21st at Boston Playwrights Theater