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The Lauren and Liz Show

"Parallel Lives" is funny but front-loaded

Elizabeth Lord and Lauren O'Neill present scenes at Midnight Sun in Olympia.

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It's not completely accurate to call Parallel Lives, formerly known as The Kathy (Najimy) and Mo (Gaffney) Show, a sketch comedy, as it isn't very funny for long stretches of time - often intentionally. It's more like an evening of two-person scenes, several of which are comic, most of which are entertaining and one of which is a direct sociopolitical statement. Of course, Saturday Night Live was never merely sketch comedy, either, yet that's what we call it; so let's be reductive and approach Parallel Lives as a sketch comedy. Like every episode of SNL, it's hit and miss. Moreover, as is usually true for SNL, the funniest bits are front-loaded in the show.

A doctoral student could write an informative dissertation on the way comedy reflects the concerns of the time, and in doing so, goes through historical phases that can be classified like fossils. By listening to the way a comedian talks about gender, race or sexual orientation, we can hazard a reasonable guess as to which five-year period the jokes were written in. So it is with Parallel Lives. Aren't white people funny? Did you know homosexuals are people, too? Hey, wouldn't it be terrific if women (womyn?) could concentrate more on self-fulfillment and less on societal standards of beauty? Yep, it's 1989 - which doesn't detract from genuinely funny material, and there's plenty of that to be had here, especially in Part I.

Prodigal Sun's production benefits from the talents of Elizabeth Lord and Lauren O'Neill, both of whom have exemplary comic timing and range. I wish Lord had put the same inventive energy into characters for "Futon Talk" and "Cabaret" that she applied to her Red Hatter in "Las Hermanas." It's rare for actors to enjoy such an opportunity to show off their range, and she doesn't always capitalize on the freedom she gave herself. (It was Lord who selected this script, and this cast, for Prodigal.) Having said that, her repetitively amorous alkie in "Hank and Karen Sue" is impeccable, and her "Silent Torture," a master class in wordless action, makes its point far less bluntly or awkwardly than the pro-choice statement piece, "Clinic."

Both actors veer from stretchy comic characterizations (O'Neill's cousin to SNL's "Linda Richman," for example, in "Las Hermanas"), to entirely naturalistic simplicity ("Three Sisters") with admirable ease. Director Josh Anderson, this year's Best of Olympia Arts Scene MVP, deserves credit for smart music choices and the clarity and fluidity of his blocking. The set (tech direction by Tom Sanders) finds multiple uses for the Midnight Sun's sore-thumb utility closet.

The show wins affection immediately with an intro called "Supreme Beings," in which archangels discuss the beauty of Creation and plan for its continued success. This pays off cleverly at the start of Part II, by which time the angels' most treasured inventions have gone horribly awry.

Perhaps the funniest material is in "Period Piece," a series of observations about the dreaded Aunt Flo. A migrant worker of debatable ancestry (O'Neill) raves about the joy a brand of tampon brings to her otherwise miserable existence, and we're encouraged to speculate on what ads for hygienic products might look like if men menstruated. It's a funny concept, well executed.

The SNL Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in about halfway through Part II, unfortunately, and Parallel Lives is about 10 minutes too long. "Clinic" would've been a good piece to cut. It's decently acted, but wedged into lighter material and too heavy-handed to persuade any but the choir. The finale, a parody of feminist performance art, is so on-the-nose it isn't funny.

Parallel Lives

Through Feb. 26, 8 p.m. Thursday–Saturday, $12
The Midnight Sun Performance Space,
113 N. Columbia St., Olympia

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