Parallel Lives may be a little dated, but it still has life
Published: October 5, 2011
By Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney
At Theatre Project through Oct. 15
It’s hard to believe it’s been a quarter-century since The Kathy and Mo Show, a ballsy feminist sketch comedy partially developed at Theatre Project, was first performed there. In 1986 and ’87, Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney packed the house with a production that pushed a lot of conservative buttons and nevertheless—or consequently—went on to become a long-running off-Broadway hit.
Parallel Lives, the current show at Theatre Project—courtesy of Iron Crow Theatre Company—is based on The Kathy and Mo Show, and the material hasn’t aged as much as one would think. Parallel Lives features Katie Ellen Simmons-Barth and Michele Minnick as the sole performers; they appear in 11 different sketches in the guise of characters ranging from two older Jewish ladies making a foray into women’s studies to a frat boy and his giggling date to supreme beings who are deciding how humans ought to mate and what color their skin should be.
Some of the sketches that were edgy in the ’80s are less so now, particularly a bit in which an older woman learns that her beloved nephew is gay. Her shock at the mere possibility feels overblown now, but the scene remains funny, and serves a new, positive function: It reminds us that, in that sphere at least, society has progressed. Many other sketches—like the one that lampoons female shame about menstruation by imagining how men would behave if they were subject to Aunt Flow—remain bitingly accurate.
Simmons-Barth and Minnick—the former often deadpan, the latter more prone to physical comedy—own the stage, using props and their allotted space with a practiced economy. (One L-shaped wooden box serves variously as a bar, a bed, and a booth at “Queer Denny’s.”) Some sketches, like a somewhat static bar scene, go on a bit long, but they’re so well organized that the final result feels well paced, with high-action bits transitioning into quieter scenes and vice-versa. Despite the fluidity of their roles—each one convincingly plays a man at several points—Simmons-Barth and Minnick maintain a winning chemistry throughout. The result is a hilarious, thought-provoking production.
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