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Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Mo Show

by Rich See

No Syvie. That is not a floral watercolor.
That is a vagina on a plate.

It's so colorful!

M. Demory and K. Cooper Kissoyan
Phoenix Theatre undertakes the hard task of bringing the cult-fave Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Mo Show to Washington-area audiences. Originally written and performed by comedienne's Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy, Parallel Lives was a light-hearted 1990's take on the battle of the sexes and women's views of themselves in society.

Phoenix Theatre, which is devoted to exploring women's issues and gender dynamics, picks up Gaffney's and Najimy's gauntlet and continues running with the jokes. In the tiny backroom theater of the 1409 Playbill Cafe, Phoenix's stars Kimberley Cooper Kissoyan and Misty Demory show how well Najimy's and Gaffney's material has held up over the years. While the humor might seem slightly dated and innocently light, the reality is that bulimia still exists, women still engage in elaborate dressing rituals in order to go to the office, childbirth is still painful, and abortion a difficult decision. And this is where Gaffney and Najimy excel in their writing -- they seldom choose a position, but simply observe how people act and the irony in those actions. So with their gently poking fun at both men and women they show us the in-cultured beliefs that we use to create the frames within which we live our lives. Kind of like when Mattel brought out "Math is hard!" Barbie. Some people instantly saw an over-riding belief and symbolism within that simple sentence, while others didn't understand what all the fuss was about. Najimy and Gaffney take those Barbie-like moments and skewer women, men, religion, family dynamics, and homophobia. While a couple of the fourteen skits are slow, the majority are filled with laughter over simple things like male-female communications, dating, marriage, death, senior citizens, and romance novel fantasies.

Director Bridget O'Leary has pulled excellent performances out of her two actresses. This isn't a production of recreating Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney creating various characters. It's two competent actresses taking on a variety of different roles in a kaleidoscope-like production. Marianne Meadows' lighting and set design are necessarily simple. The Playbill's stage is exceptionally small, its intimacy usually works well for productions mounted in it, and Parallel Lives is no exception. The only difficulty are the lags between skits. An issue within the production that would be hard to escape on any stage, but which is somewhat highlighted in this case. The actresses do their best at keeping us engaged and with the music -- ranging from Doris Day to Kirsty MacColl -- O'Leary maintains a mood and expectation of light humor and laughs.

Kimberley Cooper Kissoyan and Misty Demory seem to relish the characters within their roles. They especially seem to have fun with Supreme Beings One and Two, seem to thoroughly enjoy Kris and Jeff, and love the seniors-going-back-to-college Syvie and Mad in "Las Hermanas." Each also unearths the pathos in certain roles. In "Hank and Karen Sue," Miss Cooper Kissoyan brings out the pathos of single mother and emerging alcoholic Karen Sue, while Miss Demory plays up the drunken Hank for all he/she is worth. In "Three Sisters" Miss Demory brings out the pain of bulimia between jokes as Miss Cooper Kissoyan portrays divergently different siblings at their grandmother's wake.

All in all, it's a fun evening that flies particularly fast. But you'll have to catch it quick, because it's only on stage for one more week.

Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Mo Show
by Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy
Directed by Bridget O'Leary
with Kimberley Cooper Kissoyan and Misty Demory
Set Design: Marianne Meadows
Lighting Design: Marianne Meadows
Costume Design: Isabel Church
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with 1 intermission
A production of Phoenix Theatre
1409 Playbill Cafe, 1409 14th Street NW, Washington, DC
Telephone: 202-441-9738
THU - SAT @7:30, SUN @3; $20
Opening 07/10/04, closing 08/14/04
Reviewed by Rich See based on 07/29/04 performance
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