Theatre Review: ‘The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives The Dark Side’ by O’Connell & Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

Sketch comedy was a mainstay of variety shows from the Golden Age of Television.  Shows like The Garry Moore Show and The Carol Burnett Show were famous for these brief comic vignettes. “The Kathy & Mo Show Parallel Lives The Dark Side,” winningly produced by O’Connell & Company on the Shea’s Smith Theatre Stage, is an unintentional homage to this comedy genre, with some purposeful messages woven in.

In “The Dark Side,” Mary Kate O’Connell and Pamela Rose Mangus play dozens of characters in a fast moving two hours. First they are angels, pondering creation, procreation, and the foibles of their  colleague Cliff. They speculate on how to make men and women ‘work,’ the intricacies of child birth, and the starkness of the color white in the wonderful rainbow of human hues. According the O’Connell, the creator of WNY’s longest running theatrical production “DIVA by DIVA: A Celebration of Women,” she and Mangus – both DIVA by DIVA cast members,  having two divae as angels is the ultimate in “using your DIVA powers for good.” Mangus comments, “I think each piece we do has subtext, and comedy is the best way to get the point across sometimes.  

Just minutes into this show, you see how and why director Victoria Perez cast this show with this pair. These rapid fire character studies require highly skilled actors, comedic genius, perfect timing, and a double shot of moxie.  In other words, no one but O’Connell and Mangus could have pulled it off.

With a quick flash of lights and the movement of some modular set pieces, the duo morphs from angels to teen girls swept away by the movie “West Side Story” awaiting a dinner of shells and sauce and a sleep over. More lights and woman-power music and they are Syvvie and Maddie, mink stoled and feather hatted woman of a certain age taking a class and ushering at a theatre where their enthusiastic comments are shushed. More lights and music and they are in the confessional for the first time in a lot of years, offering up exploits with sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and the admission of lies, lots of lies, that cover most of the bases for practicing Catholics everywhere. Later they are driving to an ashram, renouncing their Catholic roots when a near miss accident sends them into hugs and Hail Marys faster than a speeding absolution.  My favorite bit by far was the support group for the Disney movie moms you’ve never met: Ariel’s mom Ethel Mermaid, Snow’s mom Betty White, Mama Dumbo the elephant, and Bambi’s cig-puffing mama get together to work through their issues. Both actors take on multiple personas in short order with nothing more than a change in voice and affectation. This was the perfect vehicle to show off both actors’ considerable chops. Pretty hysterical. The penultimate scene is in the neighborhood bar (the kind of place where everybody knows you), when drunk cowboy Hank (Mangus) rambles on to spritzer sipping Karen Sue (O’Connell), professing his undying love.

Shows like this – on the Shea’s Smith Theatre simple stage – are good reminders that the best shows need a great script, solid direction, and talented actors. Costumes, sets, props, and pageantry are awesome for sure, but sometimes it’s the simplicity that shines.

This was a short run and Mother Nature canceled at least one performance. This wasn’t the first go round with “The Kathy & Mo Show” and rest assured, it won’t be the last.

O’Connell & Company is back in its Park School location for Love Letters, opening  January 31. Visit www.oconnellandcompany.com for details.

First Look: ‘Irving Berlin’s America’ at O’Connell & Company

How would you spend your last night? Few of us have that choice. Playwright Chip Deffaa’s production of “Irving Berlin’s America” wonders how the most prolific American songwriter of the 20th century would reflect on his 101 years and his place in history. This music-packed production opens Thursday, November 30 at O’Connell & Company. William Group stars as Irving Berlin and Matthew Mooney is the young man who prompts Berlin to reflect on the impact his life had on American music.

Directed by Drew McCabe, “Irving Berlin’s America” is another regional premiere for O’Connell & Company. The script is the ultimate in feel-good mash-ups, with the inspiring message of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” added to the poignant  life lessons of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” topped off with a soupcon of Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park With George.” In other words, it will make you think, smile, and sing along.

It’s a lot of story for only two cast members, one musician, and 24 killer songs. McCabe says Berlin’s life story – a self-made Russian immigrant who  struggles in hardscrabble New York City tenements to emerge as a musical icon – is inspirational.  “It works well as a two-hander,” McCabe says. In under two hours, “two men are giving it their all to illuminate Irving’s life story in a creative way.”

The true star of the show is the music. Music director Susan Shaw has magic at her fingertips with this one. In Berlin’s centurian lifetime, he penned 1500 songs and for decades was the highest paid and most popular songwriter in the world. Familiar tunes like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “I Love a Piano,” and “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody” will have you tapping your toes. There’s even a Buffalo connection (of course!) Berlin’s first wife is Buffalo gal Dorothy Goetz Berlin. She contracted typhoid on their honeymoon in Cuba and died only five months after they wed. Berlin turned his grief into a sweet waltz “When I Lost You,” the only song he admitted was drawn from his personal experience. Dorothy’s final resting place is Forest Lawn Cemetery (Berlin had a white rose placed on her grave regularly for the next 13 years until he remarried) and there was an urban myth Berlin planned to be interred there, too, upon his death in 1989.

“Irving Berlin’s America” will take you down memory lane with great music and a feel-good story. It’s a short-run until December 17, 2017.  Click here, for more information.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.