Saturday, January 20, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, January 20, 2001

Stage Review
'Vanities' explores sociology, soul

By Joseph Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic

"Vanities" is a play closely associated with the last edge of the silent generation - the population group slightly older than the baby boomers that felt the power of the 1960s wave of change, but never rode its crest.

It’s also a woman’s play, culminating in the feminist movement of the 1970s - the first generation to experience liberation, to sense its gnawing emptiness, but lacking the longevity to see other alternatives on the other side of its pendulum swing.

Second to exploring the sociology of the time, "Vanities" is also a character piece that follows three friends through the turbulent decade between 1963 and 1974. Written by Jack Heifner, it enjoyed some original Broadway success and is resurrected in this touring production as a vehicle for three actresses with considerable collective television credentials.

While the three young women in the cast may never be called upon to play Lady Macbeth, they slip easily into the roles of three high school cheerleader friends who grow apart, even if they don’t fully grow up.


A comedy by Jack Heifner

8 tonight, 2 p.m. tomorrow

Hawaii Theatre

$25-$45, half-price on day of performance. Tickets available for youth, students, seniors


Heather Tom ("The Young and the Restless") plays Mary, chafing under parental rules, too busy to think about grades and worrying that she’ll run out of body parts to exchange for her boyfriend’s gifts.

Stacy Keanan ("My Two Dads") is Kathy, head cheerleader since grammar school, organizing dances and school elections, plotting to make sure that the popular girls stay in the limelight.

Emily Kay ("Undressed") appears as Joanne, happy to be an airhead, but seriously concerned with synchronization, sticking with her friends and being happy.

After 10 years of "Vanities" two of the women get what they want, but only the third seems to find a workable inner peace.

Heifner structures the play in three scenes with no real intermissions. Before the show and during the breaks, the women sit at dressing tables, changing their costumes, wigs and makeup in full audience view. Their transformations are an important part of the drama.

Scene 1 begins in 1963, with the girls preparing for a football pep rally. It’s a time of pompoms and big hair, when the biggest issue centered on an appropriate theme for the junior prom. Characters are established and friendships are firmly cemented. The scene ends with the school’s announcement of President Kennedy’s assassination, and the girls’ failure to grasp that more than their football game will be affected.

Scene 2 finds them in 1968 - still friends during their senior year in their college sorority. Vietnam War protests swirl, but fail to touch them as they express differing views - but similar lack of enthusiasm - at the threshold of their adult lives. Joanne is entering a safe and predictable marriage. Mary is eager only to get farther from home and to lose herself in Europe. Kathy has uncommitted plans to teach high school physical education.

The last scene brings them together for a reunion tea party in 1974. Improbably, all have migrated to New York City. Mary runs a pornographic art gallery. Joanne leads the life of a suburban housewife, about to produce her fourth child. And Kathy has dropped out of teaching to reconsider her life, supported in luxury by an unseen and mysterious partner.

These are difficult years, when women’s liberation has broken all the rules, making them free but still unsatisfied. At this juncture, they have clearly parted ways and are variously disappointed, bitter or in deep denial. The final dialogue leaves them there - unresolved, unfulfilled and unhappy.

Consequently, the play also leaves the audience emotionally diminished. We’ve seen these young women examined and found wanting. The implication invites us to similarly dissect ourselves.

This is not a happy prospect.

While "Vanities" exists in a discreet period, it has a wider message - one that’s been cautioned before in other ways. Be careful what you wish for, because you probably will get it.

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