Nearly Naked Theatre's Season Opener Disappoints
Nearly Naked Theatre has joined the fray and moved its curtain time from the more traditional 8 p.m. to a half-hour earlier, and therefore I — not having paid attention to these details — missed the first 15 minutes of Parallel Lives, its season opener. Which turned out not to be much of a loss, I am sorry to report.
I'd like to say that I was unimpressed by this production because I've seen such fine versions of the show in the past — the original, starring authors Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney (magnificent); a local production starring Kathy Fitzgerald and Lisa Fineberg Malone (stellar); and a remount featuring Fitzgerald and Katie McFadzen (even better). But the talent offered by Nearly Naked is right up there: Directed by the company's gifted artistic director Damon Dering, this edition of Parallel Lives (cleverly subtitled The Drea and Joho Show) stars Johanna Carlisle and Andréa Morales — a powerhouse trio more than likely to deliver a yowza couple hours of comedy.
Somehow, they do not. I laughed once, at Morales' ad lib about scenic designer's David Weiss' work — another disappointment — but spent much of the rest of the time puzzling over why this collection of comic sketches never fully ignited.
Parallel Lives was a late-'80s phenomenon that launched the acting careers of its authors, who toured with the original production and eventually filmed it (and its subsequent stage sequel) for television. The dozen-odd blackouts, most of them feminist-flavored, were written to Gaffney's talent for caricature and Najimy's subtle way with satire; each comes with a morals lesson about gender stereotypes, the power of women, and coming out as gay.
Morales and Carlisle work overtime to sell these once-progressive issues. While their timing is spot-on and their creations — a pair of middle-aged Jewish Long Islanders discovering "women's studies"; teen girls discussing sex and loyalty; a couple of little girls pondering the existence of God — fully realized, they often appear to be keeping up with the material, rather than fully inhabiting it. Morales gets messy in a pantomimed ballet about women's daily ablutions that's meant to be funny because it's rigid and refined; Carlisle's portrayal of a little girl is wedged with too much clever cuteness. And the pair plays Bronx teens as if they were amateurs aping someone else's performance. Both actresses are better than this.
They prove as much in more complicated places in the show, like the Act One closer "Las Hermanas," where the pair sparkles as out-of-their-element middle-aged ladies visiting a feminist theater. And Carlisle's reading of "Mrs. Kenny Rodgers," in which she nails a particular Southern stereotype who just wants to marry her favorite country singer, is sublime. But Dering allows his actors to overplay routines and stomp on jokes with broad gestures, and the result is a pair of players who often don't connect with their material, and a stage full of wasted talent.
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