God Damn the 80s!
Time hasn't been gentle to Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney's long-running off-off-Broadway hit, Parallel Lives.The evening of comic vignettes in which two actresses play 30 male and female characters is very much a product of the '80s. It's not just the references to Billy Joel, Mork & Mindy, Nicaragua and Schlitz Malt Liquor, nor the pre-ADD and -MTV three-hour running time that dates the sketches. It's also the preachy, smug, self-congratulatory "we're all enlightened, sensitive women, and men are all foul-mouthed, crotch-grabbers with big egos and small pricks" school of feminism that, with a few exceptions, died out with bra burning and tasting your menstrual fluid.
Loud*R*mouth Theatre Co. co-founder and Parallel Lives director Laura Marchant claims to have read "hundreds of scripts" with co-founder Emily Duval before deciding on this play. If this really is the best female writing they can come up with, they're not trying.
Most of the sketches peak at the halfway mark, repeating their points until they fade to an ending. But several—an extended riff on periods; two women visiting a vegetarian restaurant; a couple bickering on a futon and a dark meditation on God—are laugh-out-loud funny, despite their pretensions.
Marchant's staging is uninspired, but she's good with actors, and two members of her eight-woman ensemble are so remarkable they make the $15 admission seem a pittance. Hillary Calvert plays a series of wildly different characters—a dippy good girl who becomes president of Nicaragua, a street whore, a becalmed New Age devotee and a lesbian performance artist, among others—who are so radically different from one another in tone, appearance and manner it's hard to believe the same actress plays all of them. Likewise Ellen Williams, who attacks a variety of roles with a manic gusto that is exhausting to watch. Her performance in Silent Torture, a sketch in which she mimes the frantic drudgery of getting her body ready for another day is so perfectly performed and hilarious it makes you wish loud*R*mouth had staged the show as written—with two actresses playing all the characters—and Calvert and Williams nominated to run the whole show.
Parallel Lives by the loud*R*mouth Theatre Co. at the Edison Theatre, 213 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 972-3593. In repertory with Goose & Tomtom, so call for exact dates and times. Through Aug. 11. $15.
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