When everything clicks in the theater, it’s a beautiful thing.
Click, click, click, CLICK.
That’s the sound of “The Kathy & Mo Show,” O’Connell & Company’s season opener, hitting on all cylinders.
A series of comic/touching vignettes with a first-time director in a new, untested venue, the show could have been uneven, it could have suffered technical difficulties, it could have tried too hard.
It didn’t do any of those things.
Mary Kate O’Connell and Pamela Rose Mangus chose wisely for their company’s first production at the Park School on Harlem Road. Following the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid), they cast themselves in a proven hit and ran with it.
In all fairness to the original Kathy and Mo, Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney, their writing is good enough that their presence is not missed here. If anything, Mary Kate and Pam improve on Kathy and Mo on stage.
Anyone who knows her, or who has met her, or who is aware of her subliminal diva-ness, can picture O’Connell as one of the two Supreme Beings who open the show from on high, casually sorting out with Mangus just how all this man-woman-etc. sex business should be set up and worked out, who gets to have the baby, and what the prettiest colors will be for people.
In two acts with 11 pieces plus two codas, the two women change with seeming ease from moody teens mangling movie clichés to three women mourning, in their own way, the death of their Grams while riding Space Mountain at Disneyland. (“Nobody reads those [warning] signs!”)
The show has two recurring characters, Maddie and Syvie, the first two that were created by the writers and the two most likely to irritate. Somehow, the actresses make them sweetly funny rather than grating.
When they sign up for a Women’s Studies class in continuing education, the ignorance that could be treated with mockery – “You learn things in there that you didn’t want to know!” – becomes a genuine education for the two.
“Bisexists, lesbianese, all of it – everyone marches to their own drum circle!” is how they put it.
One of the best pieces is set in a therapy group for the most outcast group of women ever: the Disney Moms. Dead before the movies start, killed at the beginning or pushed into the background in favor of witches, princes and fathers, we never knew their names, until now.
There’s Dolores Deer, whose son wound up being raised by a rabbit and a skunk; Betty, mother of Snow – “I’m Betty, Betty White”; Nemo’s mother, Coral; and Ethel Mermaid, Ariel’s mom. They have issues with how they were treated, and also with how the great and powerful Walt treated their kids.
“No way I would have let my daughter give up her voice and half her body!” Ethel says.
Then there’s the mom who stumbles in and forgets which therapy group this is. “My name is Barbara, and I’m an alcoholic!” she announces. Wrong meeting, she is told.
“Oh. I’m the mother of Cinder. I’m Barbara-Ella.”
O’Connell is fearlessly funny as the angry Barbara, and director Victoria Perez stages the scene so perfectly you would swear afterward that there were eight or 10 actresses up there, not just two.
“The Kathy & Mo Show” is Perez’s first time directing. One of the area’s most reliably excellent actresses, she knows how to get the most from her performers here.
The play is written, directed and performed by women. Hopefully, that won’t keep men away. The bits are not anti-male or overly angry. They provide a clear and funny window into how people think and feel, because, after all, women are people, too.
“The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives/The Dark Side”
3½ stars(Out of four)
Presented through Oct. 20 by O’Connell & Company at the Park School of Buffalo, 4625 Harlem Road. Tickets are $25 general; $20 senior citizens; $15 ages 4-12, student, military and industry/actor. Call 848-0800 or visit www.oconnellandcompany.com.