THE MINEOLA TWINS, American Theater Company, and How I Learned to Drive, Frump Tucker Theatre Company, at Bailiwick Repertory. Paula Vogel’s campy update of The Patty Duke Show–she chronicles the misadventures of identical twins over 35 years–suffers from a problem that’s unusual in her work: it’s far too topical. Whether Vogel’s plays are drawn from her own life or purely fictional, they usually seem completely honest and generally manage to encapsulate a spectrum of human emotion.

The Mineola Twins likewise strikes a fine balance between humor and drama–if anything, it’s one of her most appealing, accessible plays. But she substitutes pop-culture and political references for deep characterizations. That puts the onus on director Kim Rubinstein and her cast to make the necessary inferences and elicit the nuances of Vogel’s work.

Although Kate Buddeke’s husky voice makes her somewhat unbelievable as twins Myra and Myrna during their teenage years, sharp comic instincts and intensely physical performances ground both roles. Given Rubinstein’s crisp staging and Scott Duff and John Jordan’s scene-stealing turns as “the two other men”–fleet-footed guys who dance their way through the numerous scene changes–ATC’s production rectifies all but the most fundamental problems in Vogel’s script.

Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive presents fewer challenges: though individual scenes and speeches are greater than the play’s sum, it’s almost beautiful in its simplicity. This Pulitzer-winning work requires only one thing for a successful staging: actors who can convey the depth of the two main characters. Julie Eudeikis and Vincent P. Mahler are two such performers; Eudeikis is a model of restraint as Li’l Bit, the victim of incest, and as her abusive uncle–perhaps the play’s most difficult part–Mahler communicates the pure banality of evil. R. John Roberts’s stripped-down, economical staging is less physical than ATC’s visceral treatment of The Mineola Twins, but that doesn’t make it any less dynamic.

–Nick Green