Comedy demands timing and energy.

And both were off on Friday's opening night of Beowulf Alley Theatre's production of "Parallel Lives."

Lisa Mae Roether and Martie van der Voort gave it their all, and the two-person play started with promise.

But "Parallel Lives" demands much of its actors - they play more than two dozen characters in a series of short scenes that don't necessarily connect. The vignettes require energy, a fast pace and a smooth transition between scenes.

Director Whitney Morton relied on simple costume changes to differentiate the scenes and characters, which vary from two angels trying to decide how to divvy up the gifts at the moment of creation (women got childbirth, which, they were certain would make men jealous, so they gave them egos) to a looped cowboy trying to pick up a woman in a bar. Though minimal, the costume changes coupled with the shuffling of props just served to bog things down.

And there were ad libs to localize the script, and the actors inserted their names a number of times. Those changes came across as too self-conscious and precious.

Roether and van der Voort are both talented actresses, but they struggled here, trying too hard to be funny.

Opening night usually has the biggest audiences, and the most supportive ones. The Beowulf audience was sparse, and laughs were difficult to pull out of it.

That can put any actor off his game and may be a partial culprit here.

"Parallel Lives" is a very funny show. While this production wasn't on opening night, the cast definitely has the potential to make it so - perhaps by this weekend's performances, all will be righted. If so, you are in for a howling good time.


• What: Beowulf Alley Theatre's production of "Parallel Lives."

• Playwrights: Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney.

• Director: Whitney Morton.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 25.

• Where: Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave.

• Tickets: $20, with discounts available.

• Reservations, information: 882-0555.

• Running time: About 2 hours, 15 minutes, with one intermission.

• Et cetera: Contains some harsh language.