Why a play where all the characters, female and male, are played by women? One of the characters in Anton in Show Business says it best. In theatre, “80% of roles are played by men. 90% of directors are men. This play means to redress the former and satirize the latter.”
It would be easy for Anton to take itself too seriously, with such a blatant objective. Fortunately for the audience, playwright Jane Martin chooses wit over seriousness. The satirical barbs still sting, but oh so charmingly.
The premise is that a regional theatre company proposes a production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. They raise funding on the promise of importing a Hollywood star to play one of the leads. “Artistic differences” lead to a revolving door of directors until a least mutually objectionable crew is established.
Hence we have a common vehicle – the play within a play (e.g., Noises Off).
No one is safe from the satire. Actors (theatre, film and television), directors, stage managers, producers, sponsors, board members, musicians – all are vulnerable. Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, regional theatres, Actors Equity – all are skewered. Critics, reviewers, and especially blog reviewers get some of the sharpest barbs. Delightful.
Any satire needs a set of stock characters. Anton has thirteen such characters, played by seven women. If you’ve been around theatre or read about film and TV production, you’ll recognize many of them. Here’s a sample:
The hard-working and under-appreciated stage manager (Iyono Ede) does whatever she’s asked because she needs the money. “If I only did plays that didn’t offend me, I’d be shit out of work.”
- Lisabette Cartwright (Robin Hodge) is a naive recent graduate of acting school (at Southern Methodist U!) who decides to give up teaching schoolchildren to pursue her dream of a professional acting career.
- Casey Mulgrew (Robin Guy) has acted in 200 Off-Off-Broadway productions without ever drawing a salary.
- Ben Shipwreck (Laura Hall) is a country singer who wants to try his hand at acting. He’s a man with a wife and two children who is cast to play Vershinin, Masha’s lover (who is married and has two daughters). Hall also hams it up as Kate (graduate of Stanford, Harvard and Yale) the artistic director of a San Antonio regional theatre company.
- Polish director Wikéwich (Rachel Eugster) has 71 productions of Chekov in his bio.
- Holly Seabé (Shawna Pasini) is an out-of-work Hollywood film and TV actress who is trying to restart her career with a legitimate theatre role.
- Joby (Alexis Scott) is an opinionated theatre reviewer who writes for a local blog.
As the program promises, mayhem results, well-orchestrated by director Bronwyn Steinberg.
The humour derives mostly from the situations and the characters. The satire is an organic whole, rather than a set of clever one-liners. The jokes rely on context and timing, which the cast handles well.
The result: an audience that laughs, loudly and often.
But this is not a simple yuk fest. There are moments of pathos to remind us that bad stuff happens in real life. The ending is an appropriate parallel to the ending of the Three Sisters. (Though Martin takes time for a few last jabs at the overly serious reviewer, Joby.)
But if regional theatre is so easy to satirize, why do it? Playwright Martin decides to answer this with an epilogue delivered by the now more worldly Lisabette Cartwright. In As You Like It, Rosalind (speaking for Shakespeare) says that “good plays prove the better by the help of a good epilogue.” Cartwright (speaking for Martin) gives an example of how a play transformed theatre and audiences. For all its barbs, Anton is about Martin’s love of theatre. However, at about two hours including intermission, it’s questionable whether the epilogue is necessary to the play.
This isn’t a show for everyone. A few patrons walked out of the second half. If you feel that you’ve already seen one too many plays about producing a play, Anton is not for you.
There were a couple of young teenagers in the opening night audience, in the company of their father. They seemed none the worse for some adult language and mention of intimate body parts in the play. (No such body parts are revealed.) However, they also seemed mature for their years. This may be a good introduction to the realities of the profession for aspiring young thespians. Parental guidance is advised.
All that said, most of the opening night audience laughed heartily and often, while acknowledging moments of genuine pathos. A couple of hours of laughter in these stressful times may be just what the doctor ordered. You don’t have to wait for a written prescription.
Anton in Show Business by Three Sisters Theatre Company is playing at The Gladstone Theatre, Thursday to Saturday, February 25-27, Tuesday to Saturday March 1–5 at 7:30PM. Matinees Saturday February 27 and March 5, and Sunday February 28 at 2:30PM. Adult tickets are $34 (including HST). Senior tickets are $30. and Student/Artist tickets are $20. The run time is approximately 2 hours, including intermission.