BWW Reviews: PARALLEL LIVES Gives Nashville Another Chance to Revel in the Talents of Lauren Shouse

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My first review for BroadwayWorld.com (written in the summer of 2009), which marked my return to the world of reviewing and criticism, was of the Street Theatre Company production of Parallel Lives, a series of interrelated (kinda) comedy sketches starring Holly Allen and Cathy Street.

So, when it was announced that the almost obscenely talented duo of Holly Allen and Cathy Street would be reviving their performances for a summer 2012 run, I knew that I, fueled by a nostalgic bent and wistful sentimentality of a sort, should give it another once-over, as much for the winning portrayals from Allen and Street, as for the opportunity to doff my fedora (as a man with a hat-head, I've often worn a fedora, just not to the theater-I have a hard and fast set of rules which keep me on the fashion straight-and-narrow, as it were) to director Lauren Shouse, a woman of honor and skill who will be leaving Nashville by summer's end to pursue education of a higher sort at Northwestern University.

Because of where it fits in my career as a critic, marking my own comeback, I have a very soft spot in my hardened heart for Parallel Lives, for the characters brought to life by Allen and Street-standing in for Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy, who created the theatrical piece-and for Shouse's warmth and grace as a woman and her controlled focus as a director. Suffice it to say, this is sort of a love letter, a valentine if you will to their efforts which are winningly and captivatingly brought back to the stage this summer.

In a theatrical season marked by new adventures and the arrival on the scene of new personalities and theater companies facing fresh challenges, Parallel Lives is noteworthy for several reasons, not the least of which that it speaks to something that I've long said keeps Nashville from entering the major leagues as a theater town: Open-ended runs are never an option, it seems, in good ol' Music City USA. Blame for that can squarely be placed upon the scarcity of venues available to theater companies (thankfully, Street Theatre Company has its own space to further its aims and dreams, theatrically speaking) and, quite frankly, the financial bottom line. It's a risky undertaking to mount an open-ended run in a town where audiences tend to wait until the last possible moment to go see a good show before it closes.

And while Parallel Lives has never had an open-ended run, Street, Allen and Shouse have managed to give further life to their engaging production by taking their show on the road and sharing their collected creative gifts with audiences all over the map-or so it seems, even if the map they're all over has been one of largely regional scope.

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The characters created by Gaffney and Najimy-which range from a pair of "supreme beings" to a couple of Catholic schoolgirls questioning what's happening in their church every week, a duo of Italian-American teenagers reveling in the romanticized sturm und drang of West Side Story and two older women furthering experiencing life's bountiful buffet of offerings-are, as you might expect, accessible and approachable, attractive in the way your off-kilter pals tend to be. You'll see a lot of yourself and the people you love in Parallel Lives and it's that easily recognizable give and take of the characters, their lively and amusing banter, and the guffaws and belly laughs you're sure to enjoy, that makes the show a definite must-see.

Allen and Street play well off one another, displaying an obvious trust in each other's abilities, to create a memorable evening of theater that might be estrogen-laden, but has enough testosterone fueling it to make all members of the audience welcome. Cathy Street shows off her versatility in each of the many roles she takes on in Parallel Lives and her comic timing helps her hone in on each character's frailties and attributes like so many lasers aimed at your eyes. And there's a natural reticence about her that makes her work with Allen, who seems more outwardly demonstrative onstage, more compelling.

Holly Allen, quite simply, is one of the most gifted actresses you'll find onstage anywhere. She completely loses herself in the characters she portrays and you leave the theatre after seeing her feeling inspired and energized by her complete and utter devotion to her craft.

The director, the estimable Lauren Shouse, is so likable offstage, so focused onstage, you know that any show in which she has been involved is certain to entertain and to illuminate, to sometimes shock you with its intensity and, at others, to simply beguile you with the artistry of her work. Nashville theater is a much better entity, its community richer, because of the time she has spent here-and she will be missed, even as people recall her achievements and accomplishments with respect and delight for years to come.

I should probably point out that this review is not indicative of any recent diagnoses predicting my imminent demise, nor is it an attempt to suck up to anyone (after almost 30 years as a critic, I don't have to do that), instead it is a heartfelt treatise on how much theater often moves me, even when I know what to expect, when artists collaborate to deliver something that transports me to another world…another life, in some other parallel universe perhaps…where I laugh out loud, in the dark, surrounded by like-minded individuals. It's swell, isn't it?

- Parallel Lives. By Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy. Directed by Lauren Shouse. Presented by Street Theatre Company, Nashville. Through July 3. For details, go to www.streettheatrecompany.org or call (615) 554-7414 for reservations.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.







 
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