Molly Bellner and Amy-Kern Smith

Nearly every week in the Indianapolis area, there are various community theatre offerings and they achieve many different levels of competence. Most are indeed very good, many are just good in parts, and some few are incredible. These latter types give you the feeling that you are at a professional level performance or, if you are like me and have trouble suspending that much reality, that you are witnessing something special in the genre – a community theatre performance that fills the stage with a high level of energy, understanding and pure, raw talent. 

Such was the performance I witnessed last night at Spotlight Players’ Dreyling Stage production of Parallel Lives, written by Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy. The show is a series of sketches that are done by just two actresses, Molly Bellner and Amy-Kern Smith, playing 10 roles apiece. The various characters range from a pair of high order creation planning angels to a low-end couple in a honky-tonk bar. Full of laughs and energy, the sketches hold up a mirror so that we often have the sensation that we are seeing ourselves or at the very least, someone we know.

This is a script that could be a disaster if miscast, there is so much necessity for precise, energetic, concentrated performance. Director Mac Bellner, having cast Bellner and Smith got it right. Obviously well-rehearsed, these ladies spin through their various assortment of portrayals as if they were connected at the hip – always together, never one stronger than the other, not a blip or a fuzzy moment in concentration, impersonation or performance. Their comic timing was impeccable. And, I forgot that they are people I know.

Naturally, with an array of 12 sketches, I have my favorites…the first one being the opener, where Being One and Being Two, angels of the highest order, creation planners it seems, plot out how procreation is going to work. It’s a great way to start the show. A scene called “Kris and Jeff” shows us two young college kids on a date – Smith is flawless as a dippy, overly self-aware Kris and Bellner as the jock Jeff is beyond believable. Another hilarious scene explores what it would be like if men had periods.

The precision we saw between the actresses in a scene called Holly and Molly, about two ultra-feminist performers, is a stunning treat. Plus, there are individual turns. The first by Smith as an older Women’s Studies student who tells the story of learning about her favorite nephew’s gay lifestyle is pure magic. Bellner’s portrayal of a woman’s morning rituals, called “Silent Torture”, is a wonderful bit of basic theatre pantomime taken to a high-end display of precision and comic timing. It was Carol Burnett worthy.

The "Kris and Jeff" scene

Even my least favorite scene, which shall go unnamed, was pretty darn good.

As far as my typical practice of having helpful, constructive criticisms is concerned, forget about it – there was nothing to change, not even a costume or prop was inappropriate or could have been better. And the performances were matchless.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the show – the entire audience did, showing their approval with a standing ovation, the first of many I predict for this cast. If ever there was a sure bet to go see and enjoy, this is it.

Parallel Lives continues tonight, July 10th and for one more weekend through July 18th with shows at 8 pm on Fri-Sat and an Sunday early show at 6pm. Call 767-2774 for reservations.

Note that this show is recommended for adult audiences, mostly due to references to body parts.

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