Described by the Memphis Flyer as a cross between “The Vagina Monologues” and “Saturday Night Live,” the two-person comedy “Parallel Lives” has played to rave reviews all around the country.
Now Cal Poly will have the chance to take in the performance, as Cal Poly Arts will present the show Saturday in honor of National Women’s History Month.
“I think ‘Parallel Lives’ is the rare show that cleverly blends comedy and intellect without ever (being) condescending to its audience,” said Rodney Peck, the production’s artistic director. “And our production of the show is very basic in the staging. We let the material do the talking – there’s no need for helicopters, falling chandeliers or singing candle sticks.”
The two-to-three-hour sketch is told through the voices of 28 characters, portrayed in this case by Kim Justis and Jenny Odle-Madden through a series of vignettes, and is ideal for the student demographic, Peck said.
“This is a show for adults, and it hasn’t been watered down to reach a ‘youth’ market,” he explained. “It’s perfect for a college campus.”
An insightful look at creation, feminism, gender roles and humanity, “Parallel Lives” launched the careers of playwrights and actors Kathy Najimy (“Sister Act,” “Numbers,” “King of the Hill”) and Mo Gaffney (“Absolutely Fabulous,” “That ’70s Show”).
Both Justis and Odle-Madden received the Memphis Theatre Award for Outstanding Performance for their 2001 run of the production, which, according to Peck, addresses issues spanning relationships, religion, abortion and other gender role topics.
“Students of women’s studies or political science will have discussion material when they go for coffee after the show,” Peck added. “I think there is something for everyone in ‘Parallel Lives.’ ”
The show, which opens with two “supreme beings” creating humanity, also tackles human rights activism, teenage self-esteem and menstruation – and what it would be like for men.
“You never are quite sure what’s coming next,” Justis said. “It jumps around with lots of different types of people.”
Perhaps its most memorable moment, Peck said, is contained in a bar scene between the characters Hank and Karen Sue.
“Suffice it to say, Hank has a pick-up line that will be repeated all over campus,” Peck said.
Despite the misperceptions of feminism in general and the show’s explorative approach, its examining nature is welcoming, Justis said.
“It is (feminism) in a way that is friendly to everyone,” she said. “It’s a comedy that makes you think and makes you laugh. One of magical things about the show is you don’t walk out saying, ‘Wow, they told me what I need to know about this issue.’ It lets us create an environment for you to comfortably observe and walk away thinking about an issue instead of being told how to think about it.”
Such potential reflection, Justis said, has known no clearly defined boundaries.
“So many people come away with different feelings about it,” she said. “There are so many different points of view.”
Justis, who’s been portraying what she calls the “large spectrum” of characters with Odle-Madden for eight years, said the breadth and scope of the dialogue of the play, which was originally written in the early 1990s, has made the experience timeless and continually revelatory.
“One of the things we’ve learned having put this on so many times is that every time we approach it we find something new,” she said. “The themes are really universal and stuff everyone has to deal with. Everyone leaves with something that sticks with them.”
A pre-show lecture by Peck will be held in the Philips Recital Hall at 7 p.m.
Although general public tickets for the 8 p.m. performance in Spanos Theatre are $28, students can buy rush tickets for $8 an hour before the show.