Today's new word is monozygotic. That's the clinical term for identical twins: two beings who develop from one zygote (a fertilized egg) after it splits and forms two embryos. At that very early stage of life, the processes taking place are called mitosis and cytokinesis (when a single cell splits into two cells, each containing its own nucleus and identical sets of chromosomes).
Many years after twin embryos complete their gestation and are born, they may develop symptoms of neurosis and/or psychosis. As a result, twins have always been a part of the cultural landscape. With or without the burden of multiple personality disorder, their behavior patterns and life stories have inspired novelists, playwrights, screenwriters, and other sets of twins.
- Back in the Second Century A.D., when Ptolemy described and named the constellation Gemini, he named its twins after Castor and Pollux (two identical twins from Greek mythology).
- In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were twin brothers who were supposedly suckled by a she-wolf.
- The Roman playwright, Plautus, used a pair of twins as a plot device in Meneachmi, a comedy about mistaken identity.
- Inspired by Menaechmi, William Shakespeare used the misadventures of two sets of identical twins as the plot engine for The Comedy of Errors, which was first published in 1623.
- Similarly inspired by Menaechmi, Carlo Goldoni wrote The Two Venetian Twins in 1747.
- In Mark Twain’s 1881 novel, The Prince and the Pauper, the impoverished Tom Canty and Prince Edward become friends after discovering that they were born on the same day and looked surprisingly similar. On a whim, they decide to trade clothes and see what each other’s life is like.
- Marian and Vivian Brown, the famous identical twins who were a part San Francisco’s cultural landscape for more than four decades, were born on January 25, 1927. The Brown twins were often spotted in identical outfits at all kinds of events around town (during their 40+ years of celebrity they appeared in more than 25 television ads).
- In 1938, Rodgers & Hart's rollicking musical adaptation of The Comedy of Errors was named The Boys From Syracuse.
- In 1961's The Parent Trap, Hayley Mills played two identical twins (a 1998 remake starred Lindsay Lohan).
- In 1967’s Something Different (Carl Reiner’s only play written for Broadway), the protagonist and his wife have two sons who always speak in unison. What makes these identical twins so unique is that one is white while the other is black.
- In 1968's White Comanche, William Shatner played cowboy hero Johnny Moon and his Native American twin brother, Notah.
- In 1976’s Freaky Friday, Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster starred as a mother and daughter whose personalities got switched (a 2003 remake starred Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan). The story was recently adapted for the musical stage.
- 1988 was a great year for movies about twins, with Big Business (starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin) and Twins (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito).
- 1997's musical Side Show (written by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger) focused on the lives of the famous conjoined twins who conquered vaudeville (Daisy and Violet Hilton). The show's 11 o'clock number, "I Will Never Leave You," focused on the fear of abandonment harbored by some twins.
Since the dawn of the 21st century, stories about twins have grown increasingly bizarre.
- Noah Kelly and Sarah McKereghan's play, Akin: It's In The Blood, focuses on a highly dysfunctional family in which John is a middle-aged husband whose wife, Mary, is pregnant with her second set of twins. Unbeknownst to Mary, John has been secretly having an affair with her identical twin sister, Kate.
- Pascal-Alex Vincent’s hauntingly beautiful film, Give Me Your Hand (Donne-moi la main), is one of those “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” stories in which identical twins Antoine and Quentin are both gay. While the two men seem to share an unwritten form of communication that is often noticeable in their body language, each knows how to infuriate the other (it’s obvious that each twin has been fighting his "other half” for most of his life).
- In February of 2016, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre staged Fucking Identical Twins: A Musical (which 20th Century Fox is now in the process of adapting for the screen). The show's promotional material explains that: "When Trevor and Craig, two business adversaries, suddenly realize they're identical twin brothers, they decide to switch places, reunite their divorced parents and become a family again. But there are a few problems: Dad is too busy fucking sewer boys, and Mom's vagina fell off her body and crawled away! Will Trevor and Craig be able to reunite the family they never knew they wanted? Also, it's a musical -- basically The Parent Trap if it happened to horrible, disgusting people."
And then, of course, there are the Rescigno twins.
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There's a new set of dysfunctional identical twins burning up the stage and they have quite a remarkable story to share. Long ago, when a bank robbery went south, one of the robbers was shot and killed (not everyone can be as efficient as Bonnie & Clyde). Because the decedent's partner in crime had an identical twin, there were unintended consequences.
Jesse Potterveld's deliciously complex new play, Years in the Hundreds (which is billed as a mystery or, perhaps a "sis-story"), recently received its world premiere from CentralWorks in Berkeley. With only three characters and a running time of approximately 75 minutes, this complex comedy and occasionally vicious drama keeps its audience constantly guessing as to how far its characters will go to get what they want. Snappily directed by Gary Graves, it is a devilishly intelligent piece of theatre in which elderly twin sisters reach the breaking point in their relationship. Potterveld's script flip-flops with ease between bittersweet moments of introspection and ruthless acts of selfishness.
Inez Stong (Anne Hallinan) has always been the worrier, the twin who spent a lot of time licking her emotional wounds. As she dejectedly chews on pieces of crushed ice in nervous anticipation of undergoing a colonoscopy, fears of her mortality keep surfacing, leaving her to obsess about what will happen if she dies during the procedure. Although she has always found comfort in her ability to tune in to what her sister is thinking (a phenomenon often ascribed to identical twins) and is the kind of woman who likes to consider a variety of possible outcomes, Inez is not a happy camper. She has always resented Jessie's restlessness, insisting that her twin sister was in such a rush to be born that Jessie rudely edged past her on their way down the birth canal.
Jessie (Tamar Cohn), on the other hand, is much more adventurous, self-serving, and has always yearned to see the world and experience life. As the surviving accomplice in the aforementioned bank robbery, she has been hiding from the law in their shared apartment for more than a half century in the kind of lonely existence that would make Miss Havisham seem like the town flirt.
Having spent half a century behind a heavily-locked apartment door, not only is Jessie eager to make the most of life in what little time she's got left, she's even started flirting with Marcus (Adam Roy), the young man who drives the local bookmobile. At 26, Marcus is an affable hunk, if not particularly streetwise. With the eagerness of a puppy, he's seeking a MILF to shower with affection. Even better, a dominant granny with sagging breasts and crepe-like skin.
As Inez continues to obsess about her colonoscopy, Jessie keeps trying to interrupt her sister in order to explain that she's about to run off with Marcus for a weekend in Mendocino, leaving Inez to fend for herself. Chaos erupts when Marcus shows up at an inopportune moment, mistaking one twin for the other. In no time at all, he finds himself stripped down to his jockey shorts and strapped into an armchair with his wrists in tight restraints. While Inez tries to figure out just what the hell is going on, Jessie's ravenous libido is forcing her to act out her sexual fantasies in the strangest ways.
In his program note, Potterveld writes:
“In my 20s, I lived with two women in their 80s. What I imagined would be a quiet cohabitation became a fun-filled life with big, shared meals and raucous conversations about love, loss, and lives lived to the utmost. We often found ourselves discussing how personal stories were overwritten by age -- or by the quiet respectability that comes with being an ‘elder.’ Years later, I wanted to write a play that included these larger-than-life characters. Years in the Hundreds allowed me to explore relationships and ‘love stories’ that veered away from the purely romantic. By examining other forms of intimacy (the intense love of siblings, the platonic intimacy of housemates, the incongruent love of intergenerational relationships), this work considers how alternate love stories can stand up to the lures of traditional romance.”
Meticulously directed by Gary Graves, the three-actor ensemble does a superb job of playing off of each other's strengths. As Inez, Anne Hallinan elicits sympathy for shouldering the responsibility of having to be her sister's keeper for half a century while constantly worrying what might happen if they are found out and separated by law enforcement. Tamar Cohn's portrayal of Jessie captures the hunger to escape from Inez's worrisome shadow and, among other things, get laid.
Whether in street clothes or effectively subdued in his tighty whities, Adam Roy triumphs as Marcus, struggling nicely against his restraints when not walking erect with a Keanu Reeves-like bounce in his step. His ability to capture the eagerness of a young man within reach of making his fantasy come true is a joy to watch, invoking memories of Ko-Ko's lyric from The Mikado:
"There is beauty in extreme old age.
Do you fancy you are elderly enough?
Information I'm requesting on a subject interesting:
Is a maiden all the better when she's tough?
Are you old enough to marry, do you think?
Won't you wait until you're 80 in the shade?
There's a fascination frantic in a ruin that's romantic,
Do you think you are sufficiently decayed?"
Potterveld's play is a perfect choice for producers with black box theatres which thrive on a sense oof intimacy between actors and their audience.