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Teens Grow (A Little) In Comedy

Zemfira Stage Offers "Vanities" at the Lyceum.

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"Vanities" cast members shown are Natalie Christina, Carla Francischetti and Pamela Sabella.

Three air-headed high school cheerleaders grow into three troubled young adults over three scenes in the comedy "Vanities" staged by Zemfira Stage at the Lyceum.

Jack Heifer’s three-character comedy was a long-running hit off-Broadway in the 1970s and has been produced countless times in small theaters around the country ever since. It is a piece that gives three actresses a chance to stretch their skills at both comedy and a touch of drama. For Zemfira’s production, director Herb Tax has recruited a trio of actresses who are making their debuts with the company.

Pamela Sabella plays the ring-leader of the trio, a planner who insists on organizing everything from the cheer routines for the pep rally at their high school in 1964 to the reunion for her two friends that she hosts in her living room 10 years later. Although she obsesses over planning things, she never seems to be making plans for very far out into the future. The theme for the prom in high school or the color scheme for the wedding of her roommate in college is about as far as she looks past the present.

Carla Francischetti plays the friend/roommate who is getting married at the end of her college years. She seems the most extreme example of a "valley girl" at the start and doesn’t get a great deal deeper later on, even when she’s managed to give birth a few times. When the champagne begins to flow at the reunion, she loosens up perhaps a bit too much. Frachischetti has a fine sense for performing a drunk scene, pacing her progressive inebriation in balance with the amount she’s drinking.

Natalie Christina’s character changes more than the other two over the course of the short play. (It lasts less than two hours with two breaks between scenes as the cast changes costumes before the three vanities that give the show its title.) Christina starts off the evening playing a teen with an eye for the boys and ends up as a sex-kitten running a high-end art gallery where the art is high-priced erotica. Christina, who grew up not only here in the D.C. area but in Quito, Ecuador, brings a slightly exotic touch to the final scene.

That final scene is the letdown of the show, coming after two scenes that set up the story with enough clarity that you expect a full resolution before the evening comes to a close. Instead, while the career of one of the friends involves erotica and another’s marital frustrations are clear enough, the state of the life of the planner/leader is only hinted at.

The problem of the ambiguity at the end may have been clear to the author, for he added a forth encounter with the three heroines when he adapted his play as a musical which opened in an off-broadway theater in New York in July. In that version, the lives of the trio are revisited a decade or more later. That may not have been quite enough of a fix, however. The musical version closed on Sunday after less than a month.

Zemfira’s production of the non-musical play, which continues for another two weekends, is not exactly music-less. A tinny sound system blares out music of the periods such as "My Boyfriend’s Back," "Its My Party (and I’ll Cry if I Want To)" and "I Am Woman (Hear My Roar)." It is limited however, by the inadequacies of the room on the second floor of the Lyceum where it is performed. The room is usually used for solo or small chamber music group recitals. Without any facilities for theatrical presentations, it makes a difficult venue. The floor is flat with the stage being a single-step platform, making for problematic sightlines for anyone sitting behind the front row, and there are no ceiling-mounted lights, so shadows are a big distraction.

However, the three members of the cast throw themselves into the material with energy and enthusiasm.

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Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.