BWW Review: The City Theatre's PARALLEL LIVES Overstays Its Welcome
The City Theatre's production of PARALLEL LIVES eschews elaborate sets, costumes, and production design in favor of highlighting its varied characters and the stories they bring to life. Sadly, the show suffers from a lack of dynamic entertainment value and holds a run time that will have you checking your watch surprised that it's not over yet.
Minds behind the play, actresses Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney, penned this feminist comedy which premiered in May 1986 at Second Stage. It successfully ran 3 times in New York City as well as generated two HBO specials, PARALLEL LIVES and THE DARK SIDE.
This narratively untraditional play contains 14 back to back comedic sketches featuring over 24 different characters. PARALLEL LIVES definitely pulls its strength from this refreshing format. Each sketch features female characters in their individual, yet relatable experiences, from a dead Disney moms therapy group to a Beverly Hills divorcee questioning her place in society while getting a pedicure. As a spectator you never know which kooky character waits to enlighten the audience, in their own way, about their perspective on being a woman in the modern world.
PARALLEL LIVES is a feminist comedy in every sense of the word. Women more than men will find PARALLEL LIVES more relatable and therefore funnier. They'll find themselves nodding along to the sketches about the stigma of abortion or the menstrual cycle and smiling knowingly at a display of the torturous getting ready for the day ritual. No matter how heavy the subject material, humor's insightful, sometimes uncomfortable veil covers it. Though the show expands to wider themes such as love, sexual identity, religion, homophobia, friendship, and growing old, they all stay under the umbrella of the universal female experience.Actresses Helyn Rain Messenger and Roxy Becker take on the monumental task of inhabiting each of the many characters with agile aplomb. Even as the sketches drag, they both press on with the same commitment and energy with which they began. But their solo moments shine brighter than their moments together, which began to feel like parallel performances: steadfastly riding next to each other but never connecting or touching.
Ms. Messenger captivates in her characters' quiet, introspective moments. The laughter falls quiet as Ms. Messenger's middle-age woman in a collegiate women's studies class launches into a long-winded story. Through her magnetic and almost rhythmic storytelling, the rest of the show drops away as her character accidentally and beautifully bares her soul to the audience.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ms. Becker shines through her physical comedy. She brings the house down with laughter in a manic pantomime sketch about morning routines. Through wild gesticulation and exaggerated facial expressions, she takes the audience through a typical morning we can all relate to in some way. This is the sketch I walked away remembering most fondly as it allowed Ms. Becker to show off her fantastic comedic abilities.
Unfortunately in this show what's relayed in over 2 hours could easily be done in no more than 1 and a half. As the sketches significantly overstay their welcome, the content and humor understandably get old fast. With such relevant and significant themes, it's disappointing when boredom or apathy set in as a result of the same thing said repeatedly without fresh perspective. PARALLEL LIVES is a noble effort from director Andy Berkovsky, Ms. Messenger and Ms. Becker, but regrettably not one that I'd recommend.
Photo credit: Aleks Ortynski
May 30 - June 15, 2019
Trinity Street Players
Black Box Theatre, 4th floor, First Baptist Church
901 Trinity Street
Austin, TX, 78701