Oh, they try, these women. They do try. They sing. They dance. They change clothes onstage. They try so hard they make you tired, and you aren't doing much of anything except sitting through this long, dull toothache of an evening.
This is the story of three best friends from Texas, whose accents may come and go, but their friendship remains solid. More or less. Mary (Lauren Kennedy ) is a rebel, Joanne (Sarah Stiles) wants to grow up so she can be a wife and have children, and Kathy (Anneliese van der Pol) is organized and perpetually perky. The play spans 15years ï¿½ 1963 to 1978-ish. And there it remains. You can almost see the dust motes gathering in front of you.
We meet the three gals in high school cheerleading mode,just before a football game on November 22, 1963. Before the game they are planning to watch the President arrive in Dallas so they can see what Jackie is wearing. But we don't see them do that. Instead we leave them mid cheer and are transported four years down the line to University, where, now Seniors, they are thinking about welcoming the new pledges and getting out of Dodge ï¿½ one to get married, one to break out into the world of who knows what, and one to, um, oh yes- become a gym teacher. But we don't see them do any of that.
Fast forward to a penthouse where the gym teacher, Kathy, is now living with "someone" who has bucks and a big heart. After Kathy had a breakdown, the Someone opened the penthouse door and invited Kathy in. But we don't see Someone do that. Mary and Joanne come over for a mini reunion with tea and champagne, of which they both have enough to get into an argument over morals and life styles and the costs of sleeping with your friend's husband. But we don't see that friend with that husband.
In the final scene, the three meet up back in Texas where two out of three accents have not followed them. Mary's mom has died. Mom was an alcoholic who spent a lot of time dressed in nothing but a martini. But we don't see her do that.
We don't see much of anything actually happen. What we do see is three women talking about what happened. First rule of theatre: Don't tell me; show me. Even Eliza Doolittle knew that much.
And these actors do the best they can to distract us from everything that's not happening. Anneliese van der Pol has the most difficult and thanknless task of playing a woman who speaks in generalities from start to finish. A sort of Doris Day on downers. As Mary, Lauren Kennedy has a difficult time making us believe that she is a rogue in any way. The brightest light in the entire evening is Sarag Styles who, as the woman with dreams of the suburbs, peels away the layers of her character's dimwitted certainty with the skill of a neurosurgeon. She also has the good fortune to play the only character we are able to track. The other two are mirrors.
The music is neither memorable nor clever. The conversation is banal. The world was going through enormous changes that affected these Baby Boomers, or would have if the author had bothered to dig a millimeter below the surface. Assassinations. Woodstock. And that pesky Vietnam War. But these are glossed over in favor of angst that is attached to nothing and therefore worth the same.
Vanities the play was originally produced in 1976 when we, the real Baby Boomers perhaps needed a little reminder that we were people of substance, people with a history of our own. Maybe back then we were so in need that this meager fare satisfied us. Now, however, our palettes are more discerning, and this bit of hash doesnï¿½t satisfy in any way.
"feels oddly static, stuck in plot grooves worn flat from familiarity. Give me a T, for trite."
New York Times
"Though likable, the actresses are hamstrung by thin material and monochromatic characters."
New York Daily News
"there isn't a shred of suspense in Jack Heifner's book
New York Post
"The entire production is redolent of what Dr. Johnson called the vanity of human wishes -- or at least producersï¿½ wishes. "
"just-okay, small-scale tuner"
"why did anyone think it was artistically necessary to create this show"
"It's sweet-tempered and unsurprising but enlivened by a trio of tireless performers,"
"flavorless -- though not sugarless -- bubblegum."