If You Knew Swoosie: Kurtz Returns to New York as Vogel's Mineola Twins

If You Knew Swoosie: Kurtz Returns to New York as Vogel's Mineola Twins In a big stark rehearsal room on the 12th floor of a nondescript office building just off Times Square, Swoosie Kurtz, fresh in from California to a suddenly freezing New York, sniffled, tilted her head back, sprayed some medicinal concoction into one nostril and then the other.
Swoosie Kurtz
Swoosie Kurtz

In a big stark rehearsal room on the 12th floor of a nondescript office building just off Times Square, Swoosie Kurtz, fresh in from California to a suddenly freezing New York, sniffled, tilted her head back, sprayed some medicinal concoction into one nostril and then the other.

“Oh, the glamour of it all,” she said.

The carrot-topped, green-eyed, enormously talented star of screen, television and, oh yes, the stage -- who will ever forget her heartbreaking, hilarious Bananas Shaughnessy in John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves? Not I, nor the Tony voters of that year -- would in a few days be opening at the Roundabout in the double role of Myrna the good sister and Myra the bad sister of Paula Vogel’s The Mineola Twins, as directed by Joe Mantello.

On the front of the script she’d been sent last summer for her consideration, there appeared the words: “Draft sixteen.”

“I was half scared by that and half reassured,” the actress says. “Because any writer who will go through that many writings and put it on the cover for all to see . . . ” Breaking off, she lets the courage of such a writer stand for itself. Then: “Because there are those playwrights who go” -- mincingly, jabbing the tabletop in imitation -- “ ‘We will not change a word.’ " “No,” she appends, “not John Guare and not Terrence McNally. Oh my God, Lips Together, Teeth Apart went through wild, major structural changes.” Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation and McNally’s Lips Together were the last two shows she’d done on the stage here during two hiatuses from TV’s “Sisters,” a little less than a decade ago.

“Well,” the Swoosie says, “when I come back to New York to do a play, I want it to be something very, very demanding. I want it to be a huge risk, something that scares me. I’m drawn to things that scare me.” With a wry Swoosie Kurtz smile: “Be careful what you wish for. Actors always say: ‘I don’t have enough lines,’ and now I have this” -- in which either Myrna or Myra is onstage or in the air every single minute, and sometimes, through the miracle of modern science, both ladies appear at once.

Prudish, uptight Myrna, by the way, is the one the script describes as “stacked.” Free-thinking, hot-pants Myra is “identical to Myrna, except in the chestal area.” Another miracle of modern science.

Myra will grow up to be a bank-robbing radical of the seventies. Busty Myrna will grow up to bomb abortion clinics. “A cultural history of the suburban woman in America” is the way the actress who plays both of them -- from age 17 to age 50 -- puts it.

In her next film, the soon-to-be-released "Cruel Intentions," you’ll see her as “the worst therapist in New York,” which brings us full circle to Mineola Twins. When she first read it, she “knew it was brilliant, didn’t understand it, was terrified.” And now? Just before opening?

“We’re working on it. That’s why we come to this room for every day.” The smile. “It’s called rehearsal.” Her commitment to the show runs into May. “‘Commitment’ is a very good word here,” says Swoosie Kurtz. “After this, I will probably be committed.”

--Jerry Tallmer