Jack Heifner Essay - Critical Essays

Heifner, Jack

Introduction

Heifner, Jack 1946(?)–

Heifner is an American playwright.

Clive Barnes

["Vanities"] probably owes something to the Mary McCarthy novel … "The Group," for [the] tracing of women's careers from the aspiration of youth to the seeming eternity of maturity is indeed very incisive. Yet the play, with its softly bitchy dialogue, its overlays of sentiment and wit, and its clear, sometimes obvious, development of character, constantly holds the interest. These people never quite come alive as people, but they do have a perfectly valid dramatic life on the stage. They are one degree removed from reality, but it is Mr. Heifner's skill to keep that one degree totally consistent….

There are few surprises, but at least there are a few. Mr. Heifner corrals his ladies with some accuracy, and even his clichés have the tinkle of truth and a giggle of merriment. He makes much of the shrill cries of femininity and powder-room gossip translated through the absent ears of man. (p. 23)

Clive Barnes, in The New York Times (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 23, 1976.

Margo Jefferson

Watching ["Vanities"], a play that begins in high-school days of the early 1960s, is unnervingly funny—like flipping through an old yearbook. Visions of teased hairstyles, pep rallies, the intricate maneuvers of back-seat sex unreel; individuality yields right of way to the necessities of being Cute, Neat and Popular. But then the decade moves on, into assassinations and political demonstrations, and suddenly it's 1974 and the characters have pushed, shoved or stumbled into lives of their own. And yet the old styles and selves never disappear entirely; they lurk below the surface, popping up from time to time—to show that we haven't changed as much as we feared or hoped….

"Vanities" is an astute, snapshot-sharp chronicle of this process in the lives of three Texas girls. In 1963, Joanne, Kathy and Mary are aggressively vivacious cheerleaders; five years later, in their college sorority house, they are confronting their futures with nervous jauntiness; in 1974, they reunite, briefly, in New York. Their lives have diverged; their friendship, which once thrived on assumptions as well-coordinated as sweater sets, is strained and ambiguous. Old-time banter rings false, like cue cards flashed too quickly, too late. Their attempts at honest conversation only show that they can no longer afford to have very much in common.

Heifner's fast-moving, sneakily stinging dialogue and economical staging—the women sit at vanities between the acts, meticulously changing their hairstyles, costumes and attitudes—ingeniously balance caricature and realism.

Margo Jefferson, "The '60s Generation," in Newsweek (copyright 1976 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), April 5, 1976, p. 78.

Jules Aaron

[Vanities is] a penetrating examination of contemporary mores…. The script is a hilarious and fascinating study of the emptiness of the "successful" American woman, developed through a series of conversations rather than actions. A disturbing yet appropriate timelessness permeates the script. Even the details seem ambiguous; we never know the psychological and emotional states of the three women. The play deals with the façades of the American Dream and asks if it is enough to be "popular" and "accepted." (p. 264)

The play transcends the clichés of its subjects; the script and production suggest an irony beyond even the most knowing of the women. It is appropriate that the final toast is not to "remembering" but to "forgetting." (p. 265)

Jules Aaron, in Educational Theatre Journal (© 1977 University College Theatre Association of the American Theatre Association), May, 1977.