Meredith Beck, Sarah J. Gafgen and Alexis Newbauer star in VANITIES at Hedgerow Theatre. (Photo credit: Wide Eyed Studios)

VANITIES On Display at Hedgerow

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Hedgerow Theatre’s latest production, VANITIES, is an oldie but goodie. Seldom seen in recent memory, it has the distinction of being one of the longest-running plays in off-Broadway history, running for 1800 performances. Watching the production at Hedgerow, it’s easy to see why…the story, the characters, and the production itself are compelling.

VANITIES centers around 3 young women…Joanne (Meredith Beck), the conservative and somewhat naïve one, Kathy (Sarah J. Gafgen), the “planner”, and Mary (Alexis Newbauer), the most carefree and free-spirited of the group. We see them as high school cheerleaders in 1963, planning a bonfire, dances, and their futures until the announcement of the death of President Kennedy throws things into question. Next, they are college sophomores, sisters in the same sorority, still planning events and their futures, except that Kathy is not as sure of what to do after college. Finally we see the women in the mid-70’s…Joanne is married with children and still very conservative, Mary has opened an art gallery and is exploring her sexuality, and Kathy is staying in a luxurious apartment in New York City, and is reading all the books she never read in college. The women meet at Kathy’s apartment for drinks, and…

Sarah J. Gafgen, Meredith Beck and Alexis Newbauer in Hedgerow Theatre’s production of VANITIES.
(Photo credit: Wide Eyed Studios)

There is much to like about this production, beginning with the performances of the actresses. All three of the performers were wonderful, with firm grasps of their characters, and each showed the development of their individual characters from scene to scene. Newbauer in particular was very good with this, as her character had the most “growth” to make, and she handled it very well. The set (designed by Zoran Kovic) was a series of tables, which the cast moved during scene changes to adapt to each new setting…very cleverly planned and executed. The use of music of the era was effective without being overbearing.

There were a couple things that I was not fully engaged with, however. The opening, while clever,, may have been a bit “too” clever, with the actresses coming in from the back of the theatre, one with a cell phone, another with an Android tablet. It was distracting and had nothing to do with the actual production. The subsequent “pre-show”, where the ladies sat at their vanity tables (again, cleverly constructed with the set pieces) and got ready for the first act, ran about 5 minutes too long. The audience’s attention waned about halfway through the sequence. The pace of the show was a bit too brisk…accents were spot-on, but doing a play that takes place in Texas also requires a bit of a slowdown in delivery. At times the pace was so breakneck that the actresses were delivering lines at the expense of building the suspense. Slowing down a bit would not hurt the pace of the show and would help the audience tremendously.

All in all, this is a good production, well worth coming out to see. The performances are excellent, the story very compelling, and the theatre itself is historic and beautiful.

VANITIES
A play by Jack Heifner
Directed by Penelope Reed
January 9 through February 9, 2014
Hedgerow Theatre
146 West Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley PA 19086
(610) 565-4211
www.hedgerowtheatre.org

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Walter Bender

Walter Bender

Walter Bender is a veteran of over 35 years performing all over the country. He attended Texas Lutheran University as a Theatre Arts and Vocal Performance major. While in college he toured much of the Southern and Western states with various acting and singing groups. He appeared briefly on radio in San Antonio and on TV in Miami while in college. Moving back to PA, he has performed in well over 100 amateur and professional theatrical productions, and directed dozens more throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Among his favorite roles are Lt. Colonel Jessup (A Few Good Men), Daddy Warbucks (Annie), and most recently he was George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Arguably his favorite theatrical memory was creating the role of Alan Frick in A Fast Train to Heaven for Bill Gottshall Productions. He is co-founder of Spring-Ford Community Theater, has served as Managing Director of 2 different theaters, Artistic Director of a third and President of another. He worked for the Delaware Valley Arts Institute, where he worked with many wonderful artists and instructors, culminating in being selected to facilitate a post-graduate course at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Currently he serves on the board of directors for dcp theatre as their Director of Corporate Communications.

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