Friday, February 25, 2011

Two players, 34 characters, 15 tales

Elizabeth Lord, left, and Lauren O’Neill become all kinds of colorful characters in “Parallel Lives.”
The News Tribune, Feb. 25,2011

Shows at The Midnight Sun Performance Space in downtown Olympia nearly always are provocative. “Parallel Lives” is more than provocative. It is insanely funny. Like all good comedies, it can be like salt to a raw wound as it takes an unflinching look at the lives of women and satirizes men, childbirth, menstruation and the Catholic Church.

This play was written by Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy. It is a two-person play starring Elizabeth Lord and Lauren O’Neill playing 34 characters in 15 loosely connected stories. It is directed by Josh Anderson.

Each scene is a separate sketch or dialogue or monologue. In one case, a mime performance by Lord is set to music. It begins with two angels (listed in the program as “Supreme Beings”) working on the creation of the world. In this stage of the creation story, they are figuring out how to create procreation and what that means.

Next, we meet Kris and Jeff, a pair of whacked-out and possibly drug-addled youth on a date at a gay bar. O’Neill plays the guy with a backward baseball cap and a low-pitched voice and street-tough gestures. This guy is not too bright.

In another bar scene, Lord plays the man – a drunken urban cowboy named Hank with a cigarette seemingly glued to his lip. The man repeatedly proposes to Karen Sue (O’Neill). Lord is totally believable as the man in this scene and O’Neill nicely tones down her comic antics to play Karen Sue.

Comic scenes involve sisters seen at different ages as they struggle with conflicts over the teachings of the church.

There is more religion-based satire in a confessional, a Shakespearean scene and dialogue between a street prostitute (O’Neill) and the wife of Kenny Rogers (Lord) or someone fantasizing about being Kenny Rogers’ wife.

Breaking out of the comic mold is a shocking and intensely dramatic scene with O’Neill playing a protestor outside an abortion clinic. In yet another break from the mold, Lord makes magic by silently portraying a woman’s morning ablutions to classical music.

The manner in which these two actors assume so many different roles is amazing.

They bring to mind the early one-woman performances that first brought Whoopi Goldberg to prominence, and Lily Tomlin’s performances in the guise of multiple characters from “Laugh-In” to “The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” They are rubber-faced, loud and brassy.

Most of this show is insanely funny, but there are scenes that are intensely serious. Because of language and subject matter, it is recommended for mature audiences.

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday
Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. N.W., Olympia
Tickets: $12, available at and at the door

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