A pair of busy TV actresses prove they can light up the Falcon Theatre stage as brightly as they shine on the small screen in Parallel Lives, the talented twosome bringing character after character after character to hilarious (and occasionally poignant) life while managing at the same time to comment on gender, age, sexuality, and the whole damn thing.
Since its 1980s origin as a self-penned Mo Gaffney/Kathy Najimy showcase, Parallel Lives has taken on a life of its own, allowing actresses like Crista Flanagan (The Mad Show, Mad Men) and Alice Hunter (House Of Lies, Another Period) to explore gender roles while taking us from childhood to retirement age with stops in between (and a matched set of “Supreme Beings” skits to start off and finish the show).
“Annette And Gina” has two teenage Jersey Girl besties musing over West Side Story (“That movie is a lot like Romeo And Juliet! No, just think about it!), then pondering what they’d each one do for love. (If Annette found her boyfriend cheating on her, she would definitely not break up with him “because I love him … but first I would kill him.”)
“God” takes Catholic best friends Tina and Terri from mangled prayers at age six (“Give us our trespassers and we’ll give you our trespassers”) to teenage campfire chat (“Can you believe that Mark Davis came to Camp Christ? He is so cute!”) to grown-up rejection of church teachings (e.g. the one that tells us abortion is bad) to a car ride that turns everything on its ear.
“Futon Talk” starts off with married man Bill (Flanagan in male mode) fuming about an overheard remark (his wife Jeanine called an ex “Jack The Jackhammer” before bragging about “how he would pound away for hours and never get tired”) to a more serious examination of what makes a marriage work.
Likewise, Act Two’s pièce de résistance, “Hank And Karen Sue,” takes a pair of 40/50something Texas barflies from playful flirtation (“You look very, very pretty tonight.” “Well thank you!”) to a far deeper look at loneliness and need, this time round giving Hunter the chance to gender-bend.
Not everything works quite as well as the above playlets.
“Disney Mom Group Therapy” doesn’t do much more than allow Flanagan and Hunter to play multiple forgotten and/or ignored Disney matriarchs (including Ariel’s mom Ethel Mermaid and Coral Clownfish, mother of Nemo), though admittedly it is something they do quite swimmingly.
“Las Hermanas” lets the leading ladies morph into a couple of elderly Noo Yawkas, but the “Womyn’s” Study Class Mad and Syvvie are taking and the former’s discovery that a beloved nephew is not only “homosexual” but has a “lover” feel dated by a few decades despite some well-earned tears.
As for “Period Piece,” I guess you have to have lady parts to get into that one.
What absolutely does work all the way through are Parallel Lives’ fabulous stars, petite charmer Flanagan and statuesque stunner Hunter, both of them revealing chameleonlike gifts, expert comedic chops, and layered depths. And when Hunter puts on a ten gallon sombrero to macho drunk-flirt with a couldn’t be cuter Flanagan, the duo achieve truly heavenly heights.
Director Jenny Sullivan shows off imagination and flair throughout as do Parallel Lives’ crackerjack production design team.
Scenic designer Trefoni Michael Rizzi’s celestial set reveals countless hidden wonders in Alex Jaegers’ imaginative, character-defining costume accessories and Warren Casey’s multitude of props, all of them vibrantly lit by Pablo Santiago. John Zalewski’s sound design is one of his most ingenious, setting moods with music, convincing us there’s a theaterful of Disney Moms, and allowing us to imagine invisible set pieces via the sounds they make.)
Dale Alan Cooke is stage manager. Adryan Russ composed the music for “Sister Woman Sister.” Mike Jespersen is technical director and Claudio Radocchia is sound operator.
Casting is by Sandi Logan, CSA. Cat Davis and Jennie Fahn are understudies.
Parallel Lives opens the Falcon Theatre’s first season without its founder Garry Marshall with an abundance of laughs (and a few tears thrown in for good measure), just what you’d expect from the man who gave us Happy Days, Pretty Woman, and so much more. There’s no doubt in my mind he’d give Parallel Lives a WOW!
Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.
August 26, 2106
Photos: Sasha A. Venola