Theater Review: “Parallel Lives” at NC Stage

From left, Neela Munoz and Nichole Hamilton in "Parallel Lives." Photo courtesy of NC Stage Co.

Two-woman show Parallel Lives brings another season of professional theater to a conclusion for North Carolina Stage Co. The play was written by Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney and spun out of their 1991 HBO hit “The Kathy And Mo Show.” Heavy on the sketch comedy formula, the show is a series of vignettes depicting the lives of the modern woman — the characters range from starry-eyed teens to sisters managing the funeral of their grandmother. The show alternates from side-splittingly funny to emotionally resonant.

Charlie Flynn-McIver directs, displaying a high degree of sensitivity and self-effacing male dexterity in guiding the two stars along their often break-neck paced performances. It was his idea to bring this show to Asheville, having seen the original TV iteration back in the day. And he’s assembled two actresses who are more than up to the task — Neela Munoz and Nichole Hamilton give nuanced and broadly bodacious performances.

Both acts of the play begin with Munoz and Hamilton as angels in Heaven, watching over the beginning of the human race at the outset, then checking in on how some of their charges are holding up in the 21st century. Their plans for things like procreation, ego, intelligence and perception go a bit off the rails. The angels elicit laughs as they conceive of humanity then realize their folly.

Hamilton’s star-turn moment comes late in the second act when she mimes the complete morning ritual for women, set to a background of a classical music. She takes us from rising from bed to the full shower process to putting on pantyhose and makeup. It is precision work that almost brings the house down.

Munoz shines particularly at the end of the show, playing a drunk man named Hank in a redneck dive bar. Hank hits on Hamilton’s Karen Sue, and drunkenly circles back to the well-rehearsed smooth-talker line that gets funnier with every repeating — all while keeping an unlit cigarette dangling precariously from his (her) lips.

The duo are on their A game as a pair of elderly Jewish ladies going to a pro-feminism event at a cafe where they can’t recognize any menu items and accost the helpless (and unseen) hostess with their tales and quirks, which are wholly out of place for the scene. The fish-out-of-water setup leads to some of the most glorious laughs of the evening.

Parallel Lives continues its run at NC Stage Co. through Sunday, June 7, with shows Wednesdays-Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, at 2 p.m. $16-$32.

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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