Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September 2004
Parallel Lives at the Theater Barn is an evening of sketch comedy performed by two very talented comediennes – Katherine Pecevich and Eleni Delopoulos. It was originally performed by its creators Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney as The Kathy and Mo Show, an Obie Award-winning off-Broadway smash in the late 1980’s. Najimy and Gaffney went on to immortalize their performances in two award-winning HBO specials, which are now available on video and DVD. So many people will be coming to the Theater Barn with images of the originals burned into their retinas.
Although I am a big fan of “chick humor” I have never subscribed to HBO and somehow none of my girlfriends has ever waved the video under my nose, so I entered the theatre with no such preconceptions. And I was absolutely delighted with what I saw. I was already a fan of Pecevich, a big brassy blonde who appeared at the Barn last season in Hollywood Pinafore and Chicago and I was very impressed with Delopoulos, a tall, loopy brunette. If you are a fan of Kathy and Mo, I can assure you that you will not find Kathy and Leni inferior goods.
The material allows the two actresses to show the wide range of the comedic skills, and director Tony Capone has obviously encouraged them both to stretch to their utmost. Both women get to play young and old, male and female. Pecevich goes from being a Valley Girl co-ed in the first skit to an old drunk Texan man in the last. Along the way she is a Catholic girl, a Jewish matron, an Italian teen, a southern belle who longs to be Mrs. Kenny Rogers, and a Shakespearean Queen, er, King. Delopoulos begins as an insecure frat boy, takes a turn as a black hooker, plays two very different sisters mourning the death of their grandmother, and is stellar in a solo spot where she mimes a woman’s daily morning rituals in time to a piece of classical music being played on public radio as she bathes and dresses.
The material is never awful, often hilarious, and frequently takes the time to slow down and be moving and thought provoking. The topics are, of course, men and women – mostly women – and their foibles. How they connect and how they fail to connect. The things women do to make themselves attractive, the insecurities that they feel, what makes them laugh and what makes them cry. There is also a lot of focus on faith, particularly Catholicism, and how that effects who we are.
I particularly enjoyed Las Hermanas, a skit in which we are introduced to Maddie (Pecevich) and Syvie (Delopoulos), two older Jewish ladies who, finding themselves single again, sign up for Women’s Studies courses at the local community college. While these two characters are broadly drawn and very funny, they are also fully fleshed out. We understand what makes them tick, and we like them. Pecevich does an especially impressive job with Maddie’s monologue about her favorite nephew.
Another stand-out skit for its incisively drawn and poignant characters is Hank and Karen Sue. Pecevich is Hank, a sorry, sodden barfly, and Delopoulos is Karen Sue, a young single mom whose dreams are evaporating. We see what is apparently their nightly routine. Hank proposes marriage repeatedly, and Karen Sue is staunchly vivacious, although we see her pain clearly through her kind and patient tolerance of Hank’s muddled advances. Delopoulos is literally radiant. When Hank asks the unseen waitress to turn off the lights because Karen Sue’s smile is enough to light up the room, you completely agree. Pecevich, who only minutes ago was playing an attractive and competent woman, morphs so completely into an ugly old drunken man that you can hardly believe your eyes.
There is a sketch called Period Piece which deals with women’s monthly matters. I enjoyed it because I have never seen any reason to pretend that such things don’t exist or don’t have any impact on women’s lives, but I could sense a certain level of discomfort from other members of the audience with whom I attended. I find this odd in an age where “The Vagina Monologues” seem to be performed regularly on every street corner, but unto each their own.
Abe Phelps has designed an attractive and witty set, which serves primarily as a backdrop to the two performers. Both acts begin with the women as Supreme Beings creating the human race, so there is an area where they can ascend “on high.” After these brief bits they descend and drape their wings over the edge of the lower flats so that one shows on either side of the stage throughout the rest of the skits. These omnipresent wings subtle but pointed reminders of things larger than out petty human joys and concerns.
Michael Marotta has designed costumes for the two women that are similar but different, and flexible enough to change with the addition or removal of small costume or props bits. Pecevich and Delopoulos have very different body types, but they both look great.
I encourage you to go see Parallel Lives. It will not change your life, but it will make you laugh and make you think. I would imagine young women in their late teens and early twenties would find the humor particularly liberating and entertaining. Ladies, time for a road trip to New Lebanon!
Parallel Lives runs through October 10 at The Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two hours and five minutes with one intermission and is suitable for ages 13 and up. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2004