(Press release from Open Stage Theatre)
While Open Stage Theatre is examining the roots of the American character through its programming this season, in its upcoming production of Paula Vogel’s satiric comedy, The Minneola Twins, Open Stage is also showing off the wide-ranging talents of the IUP family. This production, having its Pittsburgh premiere at Open Stage February 1-17, featured the acting talent of Jessica Kennedy ’02, with scenery and lighting designed by Jeremy Rolla (IUP B.F.A. candidate ’96), all under the artistic leadership of Open Stage’s new producing artistic director David Maslow, IUP adjunct faculty member (intermittently) since 2001.
The Mineola Twins tells the story of twin sisters, Myrna and Myra, identical on the outside, but who (over some thirty years) demonstrate increasingly divergent ideas about the world. When we first meet them in the 1950’s, the former aspires to being a straight-laced “Suzy Homemaker,” and her sister a cigarette-smoking, beat-poetry loving “Hep Cat.”
Right: Jessica Kennedy ’02 as Myrna in Open Stage Theatre’s production of The Mineola Twins (photo: Jeremy Rolla)
When we see them again in the late 1960’s, Myrna runs Tupperware parties, while her sister tries to outrun the FBI for blowing up recruitment offices. By the time we see them in the early 1980’s, Myrna has become a conservative radio talk show host while Myra and her lesbian lover run an abortion clinic and their local chapter of NOW.
In the central role of identical twins Myra and Myrna is IUP’s own Jess Kennedy. Jess studied voice and movement at Seton Hill College before receiving a degree in psychology and a minor in theater at IUP. Since then, she has worked at a variety of theatres both in the Pittsburgh area and elsewhere and has worked with many local theater companies, including Gemini Children’s Theatre, Pittsburgh Playwrights, The Amish Monkeys Improv Comedy Troupe, Dream Weaver Productions, and Shakespeare in the Parks. In addition to her stage work, Jessica been seen in several films, including the upcoming George Romero’s Deadline Stories and a number of local commercials. In 2006, Jessica toured with Traveling Lantern Theatre Company performing educational shows in schools nationwide. Jessica currently teaches with both the Hope Academy’s Shakespeare Workshop and with Pittsburgh’s Murals Program.
While Jessica Kennedy joins Open Stage for this one production, Jeremy Rolla is one of Open Stage’s resident designers, designing scenery and lighting for all of this season’s shows. His work on Open Stage’s most recent production, The America Play, garnered him inclusion in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s annual listing of Pittsburgh’s best design for theatre. While committed to creating designs for Open Stage, Jeremy, among Pittsburgh’s busiest designers, has many other irons in the fire: he is currently designing national tours for both Little Women (the new musical) and The Great American Trailer Park Musical! and is the lighting designer for magician Mike Super (recent winner of NBC’s Phenomenon), among other projects. He will also design lighting for IUP’s upcoming production of Three Penny Opera. “My thinking,” said Jeremy, “is that you take on as much work as you can handle well, because there will be stretches when no one will be offering you anything.”
“While I must admit, I didn’t set out to scavenge the IUP alumni roster for talent,” said David Maslow, “I am thrilled by both Jess and Jeremy’s work, and I am not above thinking about scavenging that list in the future. Since my first visit to the campus, I have been struck by the high quality of the IUP students and alumni. I am thrilled that Open Stage can take advantage of some of this considerable talent and that we are in a position to offer these artists high-quality opportunities to show it off.”
The Mineola Twins ran February 1 through 17 at Open Stage Theatre, 2835 Smallman Street, in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.