For Kathie Doyle-Lipe and Melody Deatherage, there's a whiff of déjà vu to their upcoming performance of Parallel Lives, opening this weekend on the Spokane Civic Theatre's main stage for a limited run.
"We actually put this up six years ago for Lake City Playhouse as they were getting restarted. And then Civic approached us later about maybe reviving it for a special event," Deatherage says.
"So it's just kind of putting it back on its feet," adds Doyle-Lipe.
But does their previous experience mean they were off-book faster than usual? The question elicits a hearty laugh from both women. This demanding sketch-based play, which originated in the mid-1980s as Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy's Kathy and Mo Show, is propelled by just two actors who must rapidly channel one character after another — from capricious supernatural beings to college students to farmworkers. And that's just in the first part of act one.
"There is that challenge of creating a distinct character [for each scene]. There's a lot of different dialects, and we're playing different genders," Deatherage says. "When we did it six years ago, we put it up in less than three weeks. It was a very intensive experience and a real push."
To ease some of that pressure this time around, they started meeting on a regular basis last autumn.
"The first time we got together, I said to Kathie, 'I have no memory of ever saying these lines,'" she laughs. "It's a lot to memorize all over again, that's for sure."
"But after we did it a couple of times, it began to feel familiar," says Doyle-Lipe. "It was also interesting because we were finding things that we didn't even realize about it the first time we did it." During her previous encounter with the play, a gag about a 12-step program went over her head because of the speed at which she had to learn her lines.
Parallel Lives is a satirical comedy often described as feminist, a catch-all shorthand for its dealing with topics like menstruation, childbirth, single motherhood and systemic gender inequality. The title is presumably meant to echo Plutarch's Parallel Lives, a series of famous biographical profiles that juxtaposed classic Greek and Roman luminaries — all male, as you might expect — to illustrate their virtues or failings.
"In the play, the characters in these vignettes, they definitely are sometimes opposite ends of a spectrum," says Deatherage. One sketch pits "a divorced, rich Beverly Hills lady" played by herself against Doyle-Lipe's "middle-class housewife type in a laundromat." Yet both are united by the fact that they're undergoing a crisis of identity.
However, this production of Parallel Lives, directed by Troy Nickerson (whose Sweeney Todd, incidentally, is running contemporaneously across town at Stage Left), won't feature every scene from the original script. Gaffney and Najimy's collection of skits, which was later filmed as an HBO special, anchored itself pretty firmly in the mores and pop culture of the time.
"When we first looked at the script six years ago, [cutting] was kind of a matter of expedience," Deatherage says. "And then there were a couple of sketches that... just seemed like they wouldn't have added all that much to the audience experience."
"The humor was dated," Doyle-Lipe adds, "and there were some things that I think people would find offensive now. Things have changed a lot. It would also be very long if you did them all."
Additionally, this production is working to capture a particular vibe, one that's a little less fraught than some of the full source material might allow. On the Civic's large main stage, the show makes use of isolated lighting to frame the action and scale things down to a more intimate size. The set design is largely black box. Quick-change costumes help keep the pacing fluid.
"We wanted to keep it light for sure," says Deatherage, "but there are definitely some very poignant and rather unsettling [scenes]. It's not all frothy. It's about the depth of the experience, the human experience, for the characters as well as the audience." ♦
Parallel Lives • Feb. 17-26; Thu-Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun at 2 pm • $25 • Spokane Civic Theatre • 1020 N. Howard St. • spokanecivictheatre.com