The Setup: When Jack Heifner's serio-comedy Vanities reigned off-Broadway from 1976-79, sisterhood was at its zenith. His three-woman show gave a distinctive voice to female baby boomers. The work, now playing at Theatre Southwest, follows life-long friends Mary (Chelsea Curto), Joanne (Monica Lynn Passley) and Kathy (Kelly Walker) through high school, college, and adult life. Friends forever, at least at the start as eager cheerleaders, the three share dreams and hopes until their life choices pull them apart. Mary the rebel can't wait to leave town; Joanne the conformist agonizes about not being popular; and Kathy the leader begins to show cracks in her A-type façade.
The end of college brings a free-wheeling trip to Europe for Mary, marriage plans for Joanne, and an uninspiring teaching job for Kathy. In adulthood, Mary is sophisticated and bitchy as only a liberated New York porn-art gallery owner can be (and having an affair with Joanne's husband), Joanne is as happy-wappy as ever with her Stepford life in the suburbs, and Kathy, unsatisfied with herself and terribly lost, is being kept by a married man (Heifner insinuates that the sugar daddy is also Joanne's husband). They haven't seen each other in years, so why Kathy feels compelled to orchestrate this reunion is a mystery that's not answered.
The Execution: Laced with alcohol and years of regret and buried jealousy, the three estranged friends turn bitter and sour, as does the play after such an open-hearted beginning. Director Lisa Schofield sneaks in the tension and dark clouds until they're inevitable, which allows the three good actors plenty of room to explore and discover telling bits of business that go deeper than Heifner's surface observations. A wonderful touch is keeping the actors visible at their vanity tables throughout the intermissions, as they preen, study, daydream, and don their characters, putting on wigs and costumes.
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Through November 13 at Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505.