Truth hides in the details. The regional premiere of Parallel Lives, at Jack's Theatre, zeroes in on the particulars of women's lives, especially as they interact with men--and gets the Big Picture right. Based on The Kathy and Mo Show, by Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy, this feminist sketch comedy rips and roars through the pretensions, tribulations and delights of fifteen characters (all played by Kimmy Gamble and Denise Perry) as they maneuver through the labyrinth of contemporary American life.

The stories begin with a pair of the Supreme Being's winged "workpersons" hovering over Earth trying to decide whether the males or the females should be given the task of bearing children. They give the right to the females, but, realizing the males will be jealous, elect to inflate the male ego just a touch.

This revisionist creation myth is followed rapidly by intimate views of life on earth. College kids out on a first date, naive and awkward as puppies, make their way through the preliminaries of courtship. A meditation on what it would be like if men went through menses instead of women reveals a whole lot about how men relate to the world (if it's male, it's something to brag about) and how women view themselves (if it's female, it's something to be embarrassed about).

Two Italian-American teenage girls daydream about boys and sigh dramatically over the suffering that love entails. A beautiful woman fantasizes about the honor of being Mrs. Kenny Rogers, while a foul-mouthed hooker tries to drum up business on the nearest street corner. Two old ladies who have enrolled in a women's-studies course at the local junior college discover a whole new world of performance art, feminist theory and gay liberation.

And that's just the first act. Later we hear from two Catholic schoolgirls as they consider the great theological questions--like how God decides who goes to hell. The skit follows the girls into their adult lives as they go to confession for the first time in fifteen years. All the sex, drugs, lies and even an abortion meet with the same easy penance, and both women reject Catholicism. But lifelong habits are not so easily abandoned, and when they have to slam on the brakes in the car, panicked Hail Marys come pouring out. It's funny because we recognize our own self-deceptions in these characters and because each of us has been suddenly surprised by telling moments.

All of the characters are instantly recognizable, but none of them is a stereotype. That is the secret of the play's howling success: The universal really does lie in the particular. All the characters are funny, some are vulnerable, some insecure, others (like the old ladies) resilient and strong. The whole show mocks human pretensions without despising human beings. The men laugh as hard as the women, since the feminist darts are meant to goose, not injure.

Gamble and Perry feed off each other's energy in hilarious symbiosis--you can't imagine one without the other. Gamble is all expressive animation--it's her eyes that haunt you later. But Perry's delicious elegance balances Gamble's buoyancy and makes the men she plays oddly realistic.

The acting and directing are so finely tuned and integrated in this production that it's hard to know exactly where the actors leave off and the director begins. But Michael Duran keeps his production tight and his action clear. Cleverly delivered and good-natured, the central message here is tolerance: We're all in this together.


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