Versions of "The Kathy & Mo Show" have been kicking around since the early '80s, when co-creators Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney, now of film and television fame, brought their brand of gently feminist sketch comedy to stages from San Diego to off-Broadway. Throughout the years, Najimy and Gaffney have tinkered with the content, with two of these incarnations, "Parallel Lives" and "The Dark Side," becoming award-winning HBO specials in the '90s.
Phoenix Theatre DC's current production, "Parallel Lives: The Kathy & Mo Show," is taken from the earlier of those two specials, which first aired in 1991. It doesn't seem all that long ago, but the material is unfortunately pretty stale.
Though the pieces are often performed by Najimy and Gaffney themselves, here Misty Demory and Phoenix company member Kimberley Cooper Kissoyan do the honors, playing Kathy, Mo and a few dozen other characters during 14 mostly unrelated skits. Each of the show's two acts begins with Demory and Kissoyan portraying Supreme Beings, first deciding on the logistics of birth, sex and race and then conferring on their creation 2,000 years later. The gist of these short skits, and stop me if you've heard this one before, is that birth is painful, men have big egos and white people are bland.
Despite the highly likable actresses' nearly flawless performances, "Parallel Lives" is bogged down by such unoriginality. A couple of sketches, such as "Three Sisters," which brings estranged siblings together after a family death, and "Hank and Karen Sue," which rather accurately captures the interaction of regulars at a tavern, at least have some deeper (if unexpectedly solemn) meaning that makes them compelling stories even when the humor is subpar.
But most of the often-overlong pieces are merely tired trifles: There's not a whole lot funny in "Kris and Jeff," a portrait of two dopey teenagers on a date, or "Annette and Gina," a sleepover scenario in which two New York-accented best friends discuss the freshly realized similarities between "West Side Story" and "Romeo and Juliet."
While these particular skits impart only a general feeling of fustiness, a piece titled "Mrs. Kenny Rogers" as well as the authors' apparent Tony Orlando & Dawn fixation confirm the show's sell-by date.
There are, thankfully, moments in this nearly 21/2-hour show that are rescued by Phoenix's execution, including Demory's perfectly timed mime, set to classical music, of a woman's morning ritual in "Silent Torture" and both actresses' characterizations of adventuresome old ladies in "Las Hermanas."
But no amount of mugging -- which reaches a manic climax in the multi-character finale -- can distract from the fact that even if you haven't seen Najimy and Gaffney's previous shtick, "Parallel Lives" still feels recycled.
Parallel Lives: The Kathy & Mo Show, by Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney. Directed by Bridget O'Leary. Set and lights, Marianne Meadows; costumes, Isabel Church. Approximately 2 hours 20 minutes. Through Aug. 7 at 1409 Playbill Cafe, 1409 14th St. NW. Call 202-441-9738.