At the Cabaret, “Twins” Pair Talent with Great Script

the original twins
the original twins // Creative Commons

I’d like to say that “The Twins Would Like to Say” is, to say the least, awesome. My high school history teacher, Mr. Nilsen, would jump at this opportunity to remind me of the dictionary definition of “awesome” — something intimidating or inspiring. God is awesome, Hitler was awesome, but Cheetos, great as they might be, aren’t awesome. Same with this play in the Yale Cabaret, co-directed by Whitney Dibo DRA ’14 and Lauren Dubowski DRA ’14.

Enter the world of June and Jennifer Gibbons, fifteen-year-old twin black girls in Wales who, seven years earlier, made and held to an inexplicable pact to speak to no one but each other, to live for no one but each other. (Chasten Harmon DRA ’15 and Sarah Williams DRA ’15, as June and Jennifer, respectively, take on these roles with stern synchronicity and implosive charm.) To witness the twins’ largely uneventful lives is to bump our noses against the glass case they’ve built around themselves, to linger on their littered silences. And the sad thing about the play is that the audience’s task is essentially the burden of anyone who loves June and Jennifer: their parents, the cute guy next door and even each other.

When the twins visit their psychologist, Betsy Ronson — played, with neurotic precision, by Emily Zemba DRA ’15 — she tries, as shrinks are wont to try, to shatter their glass case by invading the private journals she’s assigned them to scribble in. “June, I read what you wrote this week. Did you tell Jennifer?” June shrugs her head “no,” which itself comes as a minor shock; we don’t expect independence from these girls. So Doctor Ronson reads: “We both want to change and grow up. But we both are trapped.” Jennifer lets out a gasp at the betrayal, but ironically that sound, however non-verbal, feels like its own betrayal of the pair’s pledged silence. And the fact that as an audience we bristle at the violence of sound, any sound, from Jennifer’s mouth reveals our own betrayal as spectators: we’ve eschewed critical distance, knocked about with catharsis and come out at the other side of the looking-glass. Having been locked out of the twins’ world, we’ve assimilated its logic.

But that logic hides and darts and mutates. Though they actively reject the world, when it comes to reality, the girls never really make a choice between spit-or-swallow. In a subtle way that feels utterly acute, the borders of the girls’ inner lives are constantly shifting. Two blond girls from the village, who initially teased the girls (“Dumb and deaf,” they called them) end up inside their heads, either as their inner demons, or, if you’re keen on the image, as replacement twins. With these doubles, and with their fiction — outlandish half-takes of the zeitgeist, like a story called “Discomania” — the girls seem well on their way to individuating, to finding a voice in the world or an inner truth. But it’s clear that truth isn’t a destination here; this isn’t a treasure hunt for the happy, resolved psyche. The genius of “The Twins Would Like to Say” is that it never specifies what the twins would like to say, and to whom.

Ultimately, “The Twins Would Like to Say” isn’t a plot, but a tentative step in any direction. The actors, mostly from the School of Drama, are so chameleonic in character, hyper in detail and precise in emotions as to refute any notion that the play should symbolize anything; their acting stays the course of life itself. Sheria Irving DRA ’13 stands out: as the twins’ mother, she plays her forgiving character with admirable complexity, mixing fragility with a flirtatiousness that’s hard to ignore in a paradox of personality that epitomizes the inconclusiveness of the play.

The play ends in two places: Jennifer on a makeshift stage, June in a corner. You can’t see both at once, nor hear both at once, but for the first time, they do speak. The fragmented scene, so small, draws no fanfare, in what’s a reminder of the play’s ability to adjust its own scale. It’s ironic that a play about two people’s emotional, physical crowdedness thrives foremost on such spatial tact. And though the twins’ tension can’t be resolved, the Cabaret brilliantly manages to decouple itself from a rigid, traditional narrative structure.

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