Feminism is the main character in Parallel Lives: The Best of the Kathy & Mo Show, now on stage at the Avenue Theatre under the hit-and-miss direction of Michael McGoff. A pared-down version of the off-Broadway hit originally written and performed by actresses Kathy Najimy (best-known as the neurotic, rubber-faced nun in the Sister Act movies) and Mo Gaffney (Paul and Jamie's therapist on TV's Mad About You), the current offering features local actresses Loraine O'Donnell-Gray and Maggie Ebert, who each play ten different characters. And even though the upbeat actresses sometimes needlessly blur the proverbial thin line that separates comedy from tragedy, they nonetheless manage to earn their fair share of laughs by skewering such things as feminine-hygiene advertisements, Catholic guilt and, in a scene that proves to be the show's piece de resistance, militant lesbianism.
The women begin their two-hour-plus romp by enacting the roles of two omnipotent supreme beings whose decisions (such as which gender is better equipped to endure the pain of childbirth and which, purely for reasons of ego satisfaction, must be given the role of impregnator) shape our day-to-day reality. Making good use of two tri-fold dressing screens located at the rear of the stage, O'Donnell-Gray and Ebert quickly change costumes to deliver a brief commercial about tampons (from a man's point of view, no less) and end the first act with an episode in which two middle-aged Jewish matrons witness a pair of down-and-dirty lesbians reciting, Beat-style, an original poem/song/mantra.
The second act features two teenagers talking about their relationships with God; O'Donnell-Gray wordlessly depicting a career woman's complicated morning routine (to the accompaniment of a Bizet symphony); a pair of gum-cracking Brooklyn youths who ruminate on love's many splendors; and, finally, a scene in which a redneck barfly hits on a girl half his age.
O'Donnell-Gray and Ebert are at their comic best when the preposterous situations their characters experience are as true to life as they are bizarre. For instance, the duo's hilarious turn as army-boot-clad "dykes on bikes" isn't just an impromptu, stereotypical gay-pride parade; it's an absolutely believable, self-righteous, self-love-fest that leaves its imaginary audience of middle-aged, women's-studies students feeling a little, well, verklempt. And Ebert's consummate rendering of the Brooklyn girl who reenacts the climax of West Side Story evokes side-splitting laughter precisely because the talented actress permits her character's bouffant facade to shine.
However, in those few moments when the performers reduce their characters to stereotype--as O'Donnell-Gray does when she slurs, staggers and leers her way through the show's final scene--their efforts quickly degenerate. Part of the problem is that McGoff and the actresses sometimes misinterpret the laughter of spectators as the characters' only validation and so push the comedy beyond a believable threshold while the show's weightier moments elicit nothing but silence. As a result, O'Donnell-Gray and Ebert weaken their command of material that should be every bit as entertaining during its serious moments as it is during its comic ones.
All in all, though, the two women succeed in driving home a point that too often eludes most crusaders for social justice: Feminism, like most everything in life, is funny.--Lillie
Parallel Lives: The Best of the Kathy & Mo Show, in an open-ended run at the Avenue Theater, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 321-5925.
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