Jack Heifner Margo Jefferson - Essay

Margo Jefferson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.