VANITIES, Phoenix Ascending, at the Athenaeum Theatre. If there were a Cliffs Notes published on Jack Heifner’s Vanities, it would read: “Cheerleaders can be superficial. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with your life. Your best friends may outgrow you.” Though a quarter century ago the play was a hit, today it rings shallow, perhaps because the introspective female coming-of-age psychodrama has so pervaded our culture. The problem is not the performances–which are honest and often humorous–nor is it Stephen Roath’s direction, beyond whatever role he played in selecting this dated play. There’s just not that much to grab onto here.

Vanities follows three tightly bonded female members of the social elite through their high school and college years: Kathy is superorganized and president of everything, Mary is independent and desperate to be free of her mother, and Joanne is the future homemaker. The last of three acts shows them years later as the women they’ve finally become. Traci Stanton and Melissa Sloane Briskman allow their characters to develop logically and smoothly, but Marie Taraska as Mary makes a too abrupt leap from intellectual and sexual liberation to bitterness. Mary’s entrance in the third act on such a distinct note of unexplained cynicism throws the entire scene–and consequently the play’s climax–off balance.

Approach Vanities the way you would a well-written, well-acted sitcom episode with a surprise twist. Great art? No. Entertaining? Yes. –Kim Wilson