Also see Rob's review of Cabaret
The play Vanities premiered Off-Broadway back in 1976. It featured an unknown Kathy Bates and ran for over 1,000 performances. In recent years the play has re-emerged as a musical. The Adobe Theater production directed by Robin Lane returns to the original, stripped-bare non-musical presentation, and it's a treat.
If "Seinfeld" was a sitcom about nothing, Vanities is a play about nobodies. These are not Wendy Wasserstein characters. No reflection, no irony, no sense of their place in history or even their own culture. Funny, though, they're still captivating.
We meet the girls in a Dallas high school. They are best of friends, practicing their cheers on November 22, 1963. Yes, that day. When they hear over the school's P.A. system that the President has been shot, they think it's the president of the student council and they're disappointed that that evening's football game might be cancelled.
These are mean girls before the dawn of the age of what we now call mean girls. They believe popularity is their right. And though they are not deliberately cruel, they are dismissive of anyone who is not a cheerleader or a football player.
While they have very similar interests, they are quite different. They're just not aware of their differences. Kathy (Erica Entrop) is smart and tightly repressed. Joanne (Rachel Haskett) is ditsy and conformist. Mary (Jessica Record) is slutty with a tendency toward bohemia. They deny their individual differences in the spirit of one-for-all-and-all-for-one. They're lost, but they don't know it. Even if they did, they wouldn't care.
The play jumps to the spring of 1968 where our heroes are living in a sorority house and trying figure out what life holds beyond college. They've been minimally touched by the raging cultural changes that surround them. We can see their differences emerging. Joanne is still planning a conventional life of marriage and children. She's oblivious to the cultural changes that threaten that dream. Kathy aims for a carrier in physical education. Mary has taken up some counter-culture behavior without bothering to buy into its political foundation. After graduation she plans to head for Europe to hide from grownup decisions.
By the time the girls meet at a New York City apartment in 1974, their lives have taken nasty turns. Joanne has become an alcoholic mother of threetrying for a fourthwho is desperate to believe she really found her dream. Meanwhile, it looks like her husband is having an affair with both Mary and Kathy. Kathy has quit her education career because she "hated the kids," and Marywho seems half happyis running a porno art gallery.
Their differences are all that's left. Their friendship was based on illusions, and those illusions are gone. Kathy and Mary detest Joanne for her phony marriage while they both grab scraps on it from the wreckage. Kathy and Mary don't much like each other either.
Perhaps the most striking things about Vanities is the characters don't grow. They become more articulated in their individual personalities, but each character remains lost, each in her own way. As each character becomes more herself, she becomes intolerant of the other two. These are not friends. They have become people who seem incapable of friendship.
So why do we care? Do we see ourselves in them? Not really. Do we think we might have become them? I don't think so. Perhaps we enjoy watching the train wreck that comes to three na´ve girls who seem to have had it made in their younger days. Perhaps their lives are conformation that life has its own forces and flaccid dreams can't hold up in the hurricane.
I'm not sure why, but I felt sorry for them. Our three heroines are left with nothing but disappointment and they are ill-equipped to cope with it. They have no irony, no reflective capabilities and, ultimately, no compassion for each other. These aren't Wasserstein girls. They have no inner resources. Yet oddly, I enjoyed my time with them.
The three actresses are excellent, very much equals. All three do a wonderful job of expressing their individual personalities physically. They use body language to show aspects of themselves they are unable to articulate verbally. Also, nice job on the direction and production. The sets are minimal, allowing the three girls to shine through their action and dialog.
Vanities, written by Jack Heifner and directed by Robin Lane, is playing at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth St. NW, through November 13. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. General admission is $15. Senior and student tickets are $13. For reservations, call 505-898-9222.
Photo: Ossy Werner