Saturday, February 28, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of The Parkside Players' production of Vanities at Grace Lutheran Church by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Parkside Players' production of "Vanities" by Jack Heifner at Grace Lutheran Church (Forest Hills) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Parkside Players
Grace Lutheran Church (103-15 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY)
Reviewed 2/27/15 

Vanities was written by Jack Heifner. It premiered at Playwrights Horizons in New York City on January 15, 1976, for 13 performances, and then was transferred to the Chelsea Theatre Center (now Westside Theatre) where it opened on March 22, 1976 and closed August 3, 1980, running for 1,785 performances. Jack Heifner received a 1976 Drama Desk Award Nomination for Outstanding New Play. Vanities was made into a musical entitled Vanities: A New Musical, which premiered Off-Broadway in 2009.

The play follows the lives and friendship of Joanne, Kathy and Mary, three close friends who are seniors in High School in a small Texas town in November, 1963. They are cheerleaders for the Tigers, the school's football team and being pretty and popular teenage girls, they have boyfriends and worry about things important to their lives such as prom and whether they can hold out from going "too far" with their boyfriends. Joanne is the naive, country girl who is clear about what she wants; to marry her boyfriend Ted, have children and be a wife and mother. When Joanne comes up with proposed chants, such as Do It Again! Do It Again! Harder! Harder! and Go All The Way! Go All The Way!, she has no idea that others may see a sexual connotation in the wording. Kathy is the organizer who is less attractive than her girlfriends. Mary is the rebellious one who would like to travel and be free of her parents' rules and authority. Although still a virgin, Mary seems destined to become sexually promiscuous as evidenced by the fact that with each new gift her boyfriend gives her, she lets him go a little further in their sexual interactions until she finally realizes her boyfriend "has more gifts than she has parts to give." The three girls express anxiety about remaining popular in college and whether they can stay together there but are committed to doing so. The first act ends with the announcement that President John F. Kennedy has been assassinated. As you might expect given that this school is in a small Texas town, classes and the pep rally were cancelled but it was announced the football game would take place as planned, to which all three girls expressed their relief by exclaiming, "Thank God!".

In the second act, taking place in the Spring of 1968, we find the girls thriving as seniors in a Texas college. All three pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma, a prestigious sorority and now, as seniors, they are in charge of rushing new pledges to maintain the great quality and reputation of the sorority. Joanne likes tradition and rules. She doesn't mind inviting serenading fraternity brothers into the sorority house for punch and cake and objects to her sorority sisters wearing jeans and smoking at dinner (she prefers they smoke in their rooms). While all three girls are still very close, Mary has dumped her boyfriend because she got bored with him and she would prefer to just "let the sorority sisters loose" with no rules and no requirement for them to sign in and out. Joanne is still a virgin and is preparing to marry Ted. Kathy went on the pill, gave away the milk for free, and saw her boyfriend marry another woman whom he got pregnant and then married after just a month. Since Kathy's dream bubble was burst, she has no idea what she will do after college. Kathy majored in Physical Education and supposes she will teach. Mary majored in Interior Design, which she could not care less about and Joanne majored in Music because the lines to sign up for those classes were the shortest.

In the Summer of 1974, the three old friends meet again in a garden apartment in New York City. Joanne, the ever-devoted friend who is now living in Connecticut with Ted and her children, is the wife and mother she always wanted to be. Life may not be perfect and she may drink a bit too much, but Joanne is definitely a lady and a devoted friend, who named two of her children Mary and Kathy, after her childhood buddies. She attends this reunion Tea Party optimistic that there are many good times to reminisce about. Ted, her husband, recommended against her accepting Kathy's invitation, but Joanne went anyway walking into a bitter cat and claw fight of unexpected proportions. Only Joanne acts as a true friend while Kathy and Mary are two bitter, single, angry people envious of the fact that Joanne obtained part of the white-picket fence dream life she envisioned. It appears this inexplicable and illogical anger and hatred runs so deep that both Kathy and Mary are sleeping with Ted, Joanne's husband. Mary admits to Kathy she has been sleeping with Ted for a year and a half while it is implied the apartment in which Kathy lives, belongs to Ted as evidenced by the art hanging in it that was purchased at Mary's exotic art gallery. 

On one level, Mary achieved the freedom she wanted with the success of her gallery and financial independence. She is a self-described exhibitionist, attends rallies for Bella Abzug, has had an abortion, and sleeps with hundreds of men (and some women). Kathy has quit teaching, stays home all days and reads books having "negotiated" a life she just let happen without advance planning. Both should be happy but instead they are bitter toward and envious of Joanne and all she represents. However, it is not Joanne's fault or their upbringing in a simpler time that has made Kathy "so cynical" and Mary "so wild." It is the choices they made along the way. As Mary, quoting Bob Dylan lyrics said, "the times they are a-changing" and it is everyone's personal responsibility to adjust to those changes without blaming others for the choices they make. This play may have resonated more in the early 1970s as the predictable lives many middle-class people lived in the 1950s and 1960s were shattered by sexual liberation, the pill, legalized abortion, feminism, and the gay rights movement; and this play accurately reflects the challenges young women faced during those times and face now. However, that is no reason to blame the lack of a "perfect life" on others. Joanne is not the devil and she doesn't reflect the oppressiveness of a conservative culture. She is, in fact, pretty accepting of the different opinions held by her friends and sincerely hopes things work out for them. Kathy and Mary hold their own futures in their hands, as everyone does, and they need to decide what makes them happy and then work towards those goals.   

The star of this show is Nili Resnick, who plays Joanne. Ms. Resnick has a powerful stage presence and wins over the audience with her charm and charisma. Alison Kondel is suitably strong and brassy as Mary. Ms. Kondel successfully exhibits the bitterness and anger her character carries with her for reasons unknown. Lauren Snyder did well in the role of Kathy but I believe the part may have called for a more traditional beauty. Finally, just because I have to say it or I'll burst, Mary should have recommended the musical Hair for the Sing Song, not Kathy. That would have been consistent with the trajectory of Mary's story line. The funniest comment in the play was uttered by Joanne in Act 3 after she fought with Mary, who just revealed she had slept with Ted, Joanne's husband. In response, Joanne bolted out of the apartment saying, "I'm going to go home right now and change Little Mary's name!".

I highly recommend you see Vanities at The Parkside Players. The company offers a friendly staff, reasonably priced concessions and quality productions.

No comments:

Post a Comment