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Alice Hunter and Crista Flanagan in Parallel Lives at the Falcon Theatre (photo by Sasha A. Venola)
Alice Hunter and Crista Flanagan in Parallel Lives at the Falcon Theatre (photo by Sasha A. Venola)

Parallel Lives

Reviewed by Paul Birchall
The Falcon Theatre
Through September 18

The spirits of Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy cast a long shadow over director Jenny Sullivan’s mostly straightforward production of this one time off-Broadway hit.  (Gaffney and Najimi were the original writer/performers of this two-person comic show, which won an Obie in 1989 and was later produced on HBO in 1994.) The production features Crista Flanagan and Alice Hunter, a pair of talented young performers who have the unenviable task of re-creating characters that Gaffney and Najimy conceived for themselves and their particular skills. The show hasn’t entirely jelled yet.

It consists of a series of vignettes of varying style and tone: Gently comedic is probably the best encapsulating term. The first scene takes place in “Heaven” (or some other ethereal heavenly place) where a pair of angelic figures work to create humans, arguing as they go about who should have the “pleasure” of bearing children and who should be saddled with enormous egos.  In another skit, two Italian-American teens totally disregard their Catholic school teachings as they worry about their boyfriends. mIn yet another, a pair of sisters hosting their grandmother’s wake are barely able to keep themselves from laughing at their ridiculous relatives.

Probably the best skits are those which possess a comic premise, yet also boast an undercurrent of sadness. There’s a charming scene that takes place in a Southern bar, in which a male barfly (Hunter) tries to flirt with a despairing housewife (Flanagan, channeling Flo from the old Alice TV series). Their conversation — repetitious ripostes that the two characters clearly engage in every night of their lives — gradually takes on the mood of a Greek tragedy that will never be either consummated or concluded. In another sketch, the two performers play a pair of elderly best friends who, as part of the women’s studies class they’re taking in junior college, attend their first lesbian performance art show — which causes one of them to reflect on the day her favorite nephew came out of the closet to her.

Gaffney’s and Najimy’s writing has not aged well; many of the skits are grounded in a previous generation’s view of comedic structure and what is essentially Reagan era social critique. But the main problem is that the work relies on the quirks and edginess the two originators brought to their portrayals. Flanagan and Hunter are likable gamine figures — but they are unable to bring either depth or psychological heft to their characters. Their performances are workmanlike, and hit all the required marks — but Sullivan’s staging lacks energy and brightness. The skits are meant to sparkle, but the pacing plods, and the work ultimately feels too tired to ignite or inspire. 

Falcon Theatre, 4282 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Weds-Sat., 8:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m.; through September 18.  (818) 955-8101 or  Running time: 2 hours with an intermission.