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THEATER REVIEW 'VANITIES' : Dated Drama : The actresses are talented and the play whizzes by. But the subject matter of this Ojai production seems anachronistic.

March 07, 1991|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At the beginning of "Vanities," we meet three Texas girls, small-town high school cheerleaders as alike, unformed and innocent as a trio of week-old puppies. Inseparable, they're even planning to meet at the post office to submit their college applications simultaneously.

By the end of the third act, 10 years of theater time have passed and none of the three longtime (and long-separated) friends can figure out what they have in common anymore. Nor can we.

By then, it's 1973 and "the times, they are a/changin' " as Bob Dylan whines in the background, in case nobody in the audience gets the point.

Jack Heifner's off-Broadway success from the 1974-75 season is playing Friday and Saturday nights at the Ojai Art Center.

The play might be likened to a bonbon: A showcase for three attractive and talented actresses, it whizzes by in no time at all, and that's good.

Juli Dietrich, Debra Gaynor and Julie Talbott portray the cheerleaders, Joanne, Mary and Kathy. We meet them on a fateful November afternoon in their senior year at a high school where nothing is more important than football. We rediscover them again in their senior year of college, leading up to what's intended to be a revelatory third act.

But times have changed further in the 15 years since "Vanities" made its debut, and what might have been probing and controversial then isn't as much so now. Not only won't most members of the audience be surprised or scandalized by the revelations of Act 3, but by the time you've reached your car, you're likely to have forgotten most of what you've seen and heard during the preceding two hours.

The play reunites Dietrich, Talbott and director/set designer Buzz Cuccia (also Dietrich's real-life husband) from December's Ojai Art Center production of Neil Simon's "Last of the Red-Hot Lovers"; Gaynor is a newcomer to the Ojai.

The women are evenly matched as actresses, and each seems appropriate to her role, from the perpetually giddy Dietrich--up to the demands of prim Joanne--to the increasingly serious Talbott.

Interestingly, the women almost seem more convincing as teen-agers--with youthful enthusiasm reflected in their body language as much as in their line readings--than they do as the more-refined adults.

For the most part, Cuccia's sure-handed direction is as smooth and light as the script itself. A notable exception, evidently part of the play as written, has the three women applying their makeup in full view of the audience and changing costumes behind a translucent screen. The coordination of action and recorded background music here creates an inertia that takes some time to overcome once the action begins.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Vanities" plays Friday and Saturday nights at 8 through March 23 at the Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St. Tickets are $8, $7 for seniors and arts center members. For reservations or information, call 646-0117.

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