If you're going to the feminist comedy Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Mo Show to learn something about women or feminism today, don't. The show, currently being produced by City Theatre, is a series of vignettes written by comic actors Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney, and is a time capsule, really. Written in 1986, the hit off-Broadway show (and later, HBO special) is truly a product of its time. Jokes parlay around people like Pam Dawber (of Mork and Mindy fame) and the wacky womyn-with-a-y performance art I saw way too much of in the Nineties. If you're asking yourself who Dawber is – or worse, why they ever spelled women with a "y" in the first place – the show is likely to leave you cold, wondering just what it has to say about women today.
There are some notable high points. Two great actresses, for one. In a play like Parallel Lives, that's no small thing. The first act is comprised of six sketches; the second, eight. Altogether, there's an endless array of characters, from Greek-life sweethearts to a multitude of Disney moms (who turn out not to be a support group for mothers of kids wearing out Frozen DVDs, but rather the literal dead and dying moms featured in Disney animations). Headliners Roxy Becker and Helyn Rain Messenger not only deliver all of these characters well, they commit to every scene as though it's the only one in the show. They bring laughs, gravitas, and unique interpretations at a dizzying rate. At the end of the two-hour-and-45-minute extravaganza, I truly wondered how they did it.
But herein lies the rub. A fast-paced sketch show – reliant on comedy and character to make its point – needs to be, in fact, fast-paced. Parallel Lives just isn't (or wasn't on opening weekend). The second act dragged, leaving me wishing the powers that be had trimmed out a few unnecessary scenes. After all, as I said, some of the issues presented in the show aren't as germane as they were in 1986. Other topics, like the rights of trans women or the #MeToo movement, are obviously lacking, so much so that we miss their presence. Without them, the feminist comedy feels, at times, as stuck in the past as the entr'acte music, "I Am Woman." I sang along to it out of nostalgia, but at this stage in the game, it just feels quaint.
One scene that still holds an almost eerie relevance is "Clinic Shooting," a monologue about an abortion protest gone horribly wrong, pulled off by the incomparable Messenger. In this vignette, a protester from the religious right, who has herself had an abortion, screams at an imaginary stream of activists as they march for a woman's right to choose. That is, until a church friend's son unloads his gun. In this scene, and this scene alone, I could feel the audience hold its breath. We are in a crisis once again where women might lose their rights, and one in which we do worry constantly about mass shootings. I guess in some unfortunate cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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