Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Theater Review: Vanities

Lauren Kennedy, Anneliese van der Pol and Sarah Stiles.

If It’s Not Broken, Don’t Fix It
By Lauren Yarger
Vanities, running Off-Broadway ay Second Stage Theatre is a sweet story that follows the friendship of three friends from high school through adulthood. Perhaps taking some identity from its title and thinking its a little bigger than it is, however, it doesn’t leave well enough alone, as the story gets pushed aside by the adaptation of the play as a musical and we’re left feeling like something has intruded upon what would have been a fun time catching up with friends.

The pop style music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum are predictable, monotone and rather distracting from an interesting book by Jack Heifner (based on his original play) and able direction from Judith Ivey of the three actresses who bring the friends to life.

In 1963, Texas cheerleaders Mary (Lauren Kennedy), Joanne (Sarah Stiles) and Kathy (Anneliese van der Pol) share their hopes and dreams as their high school graduation nears. With the appearance of three nifty wardrobes (Anna Louizos, set design) where the girls make a change into outfits that let us know what decade we’re in (Joseph G. Aulisi, costume design) the scene shifts to a 1968 college dorm room. OCD-driven Mary, who had her heart broken when her boyfriend dumped her, tries to put order in her life by planning everyone else’s. She organizes sorority events and plans the wedding for Joanne and her high school sweetheart, who has waited six years patiently for the wedding night.

The wedding is a relief in more ways than one. Southern belle Joanne only went to college to kill time before getting married – the only occupation she ever considered. Free spirit Mary, however, drops her boyfriends as fast as the next adventure presents itself, and she sets her eyes on Europe after college.

The wardrobes and costumes whisk us to the 1974 Manhattan penthouse terrace where Kathy has invited the out-of-touch friends for a reunion. Things haven’t gone smoothly for the women and the reunion follows suit as truths about the past come out. It’s meaty and genuine stuff, with the give and take of close friendships between women made more real by the spot-on performances by the three actresses, especially Stiles as the gullible, but strong Joanne. The mood just gets interrupted every few minutes by a song or a dance number (Dan Knechtges provides the predictable choreography to work the tunes).

It’s a case of “leave well enough alone.” A reworking would have proven more useful by revise the end of the script and giving details about how Kathy came to be at the penthouse (it isn’t hers and there are hints that she has been through something major, but these questions are left unanswered).

Vanities runs through Aug. 9 at Second Stage, 307 W. 43rd St., NYC. Visit http://www.2st.com/ for tickets.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain
• Abortion
• Minor sexual dialogue

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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