The Sybil Syndrome

Lily Tomlin has done it. John Leguizamo, Sherry Glaser, Danny Hoch, Eric Bogosian, Claudia Shear, and a host of other names I could drop may be doing it even as you read this: that is, presenting an evening of theater by embodying an array of characters. Currently in our own back yard, two talented gals -- er, I mean, women, excuse me, womyn A are doing it together with riotous results at the New River Repertory in Fort Lauderdale.

Aymee Garcia and Barbara Sloan re-create two dozen different personalities in Parallel Lives, a collection of fourteen scenes drawn from The Kathy and Mo Show, a comedy revue written and originally performed by Mo Gaffney (of the British TV series Absolutely Fabulous) and Kathy Najimi (Whoopi Goldberg's guileless sidekick in the movie Sister Act). The various vignettes skewer nearly every obsession sacred to females, from giving birth to unfaithful men to growing up with a sister you can't stand. Along the way, they also roast Shakespeare, heterosexual pillow talk, lesbian performance art, and the creation of the world. Quick-witted and insightful writing give the show its backbone, but in this kind of montage presentation, it falls to the actors to flesh out the characters. Able chameleons, Garcia and Sloan bring both men and women to life through a precise blend of mannerisms, accents, and attitudes.

Equally accomplished as comedians and actors, Garcia and Sloan highlight each other's strengths. Garcia's malleable expressions and broad accents are particularly convincing when she portrays Kris, a modern-day coed out on a date, and Terry, a little girl going stir-crazy in church with her sister. In turn Sloan's depiction of a hard-working single mom trapped in a country and western bar next to an alcoholic slob evokes loneliness and resignation while it elicits laughter. And both actors shine when flying solo on stage: In the wordless monologue "Silent Torture," Sloan impeccably renders a woman's morning rituals, including shaving, waxing, and putting on makeup, hose, and heels; Garcia brings act one to a powerful conclusion as Maddy, a woman-of-a-certain-age taking women's studies courses because all the real estate classes were full. Recalling the transitional moments of early Whoopi Goldberg monologues when the comedy flipped over into sobering truths, Maddy discloses how her favorite nephew recently revealed he was gay. Garcia's performance radiates humor and compassion.

In a caveat set off in its own box like the warning from the surgeon general found on a cigarette pack, the show's program cautions theatergoers that the production is a collection of vignettes with no story line. Indeed because Parallel Lives lacks a coherent narrative, the scenes tend to ramble. Director Monica Kelly valiantly attempts to rein in the production's innate shapelessness with sharp timing and by using the full breadth of the stage. Yet the evening is more than a series of stand-up sketches, precisely because the characters are so credibly delineated. Some of the longer scenes seem only one step away from developing into one-act plays, particularly the one in which two sisters reunite at the funeral of their grandmother, who died while riding Space Mountain at Disney World. In the middle of the night, vegetarian Karen, who won't eat anything that has a nervous system, and bulimic Marla, come to a tentative agreement about the state of their ambivalent relationship. Because Garcia and Sloan climb inside their respective characters' stories so naturally, they made me care enough about the sisters to wish I knew more about their lives.

Scenic designer Leslie McMillan-Perez's minimum use of props and his almost bare stage, along with subtle lighting by Shekar Aiyer, provide a perfect blank canvas for these adventures in womanhood. The tightly directed scenes are strung together with music by crooners such as k.d. lang, Peggy Lee, Pussy Tourette, and Cyndi Lauper, although less-than-crisp scene changes interrupt what should be a more quickly paced night. Stage management gripes aside, however, Garcia and Sloan hilariously prove just how much girls want to have fun.

Stage Notes
The faculty of New World School of the Arts' theater division boasts some of the best actors in town. While individual NWSA teachers appear on stages throughout the area, wouldn't it make sense to showcase such collective talent in one place? The idea of a faculty-composed company has been percolating at the school for several years, and this summer, under the artistic direction of dean of theater Jorge Guerra, New World Rep Company debuts. They're already steeped in extensive rehearsals for the openings of two contemporary dramas: Marisol, by Puerto Rican-born, United States-based Jose Rivera, and Faith Healer, by Northern Irish playwright Brian Friel. Playing in repertory from June 8 through July 2 at the NWSA's Louise O. Gerrits Theater in downtown Miami, these offerings will get the ball rolling, with the company planning to mount a full mainstage season by next summer.

Guerra directs the magical realist Marisol, about an overworked Puerto Rican copy editor in New York City caught in the crossfire when guerrilla angels decide to assassinate God. The play runs as part of the International Hispanic Theater Festival on June 8 and June 9 at 7:30; after that it enjoys a nonfest run on June 10, 23, and July 1 at 7:30, and June 11 and 25 at 2:00 p.m. Faculty member Patrice Bailey will direct Faith Healer, a haunting drama A told through four monologues A on the themes of exile and return; it plays June 16, 17, 24 and 30 at 7:30, and June 18 and July 2 at 2:00 p.m. For further information, call 237-3541.

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