Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Carla's review of Inherit the Wind
With a cast of three young women and a simple set, the three-act play has been produced frequently since then. Many well known actresses got their start in Vanities. Kathy Bates was in the original New York production. Stockard Channing, Sandy Duncan, and Lucie Arnaz headed the Los Angeles original production. The play has been done by colleges, high schools, stock companies and regional theaters. Even this reviewer directed a production in the 1980s in Sunnyvale, California.
Although it is a play with women, it cannot be classified as a woman's play. So much happened between 1963 and 1974 in the women's movement. Feminists have been quick to suggest that the play doesn't really deal with these issues, and it was written by a man. That man, Jack Heifner, states that his play is about young people and finding purpose in life. Perhaps this can be said about most plays.
The comedy or dramedy is in three acts. The actresses remain on stage throughout the three acts, returning to their "vanities" up stage between acts to change clothes, hair and make-up for their next incarnations.
Albuquerque Little Theatre's production, directed by Paula Stein, is solid and cast well with three outstanding young actresses: Darcy Brander as Mary, the "wild" one; Fawn Hansen as Kathy, the organized one; and Rachel Foster as Joanne, the naive one. All have impressive backgrounds in theatre training and previous acting experience.
Of the three, Rachel Foster is the most consistent; her Joanne is unchanging in her beliefs, and her comic timing is masterful. As Mary, Dawn Brander is never quite convincing as a cynic, and seems uncomfortable in an overtly sexual role. Fawn Hansen hits all the right notes as Kathy, the girl who organizes everything as head cheerleader and president of the sorority in the first two scenes. She is less convincing as the confused and confusing nihilist in the third act.
This illustrates the weakness of the script. Joanne is simple and remains so. Mary grows into herself and has a fine monologue that elucidates her development. Kathy is amorphous. What does she want and who is she? The playwright says that he left this an open question at the end of the play. Speculation by viewers over the years has been that Joanne is a closeted lesbian. The ending is off-putting and somewhat unsatisfying.
The set, costumes and lighting are serviceable. This production was first done on Zoom during the pandemic and has been fully mounted for the season. There is a bit of "thrown together" and "pulled from stock" in the design. A bit of accent paint and good lighting could have refreshed the set. The costumes are all appropriate, but please clean and press for opening night. No self-respecting cheerleader would have tolerated such ill-pressed pleated skirts in 1963.
After forty-seven years, Vanities is showing its age. A musical version of the show, with the book written by Heifner, was developed in 2009 and received mixed reviews. A revised version of the musical is scheduled to open in New York next week. The playwright has hinted that there will be some updating. That is something to look forward to.
Paula Stein, a veteran of theatre in Albuquerque and president of the Albuquerque Little Theatre Board of Directors, has directed a lively and worthwhile production of Vanities.
Vanities runs through March 26, 2023, at the Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets: Adults $25, Children 12 and up $17, Seniors $23, Students, $21. For tickets and information, please visit www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org or call 505-242-4750.
Directed by Paula Stein
Cast: Darcy Brander, Rachel Foster, and Fawn Hanson