06 Sep My Cultural Landscape: Rehearsing for Real Life

By George Heymont
My Cultural Landscape

September 6, 2010

Those familiar with Slings and Arrows, the hilarious Canadian television series that took place at The New Burbage Festival (a fictional nonprofit Shakespeare festival experiencing financial problems while being haunted by the ghost of  the company’s founding artistic director) won’t want to miss a chance to see Anton in Show Business. Jane Martin’s tart comedy about the realities of life in the theatre just opened the season for TheatreFIRST (which performs in the black box theatre in the same building that houses Oakland’s newly-restored Fox Theatre and the Oakland School for the Arts).

The winner of the 2001 American Theatre Critics Association’s Steinberg New Play Award, Anton in Show Business depicts what happens when a small regional theatre company attempts to cast and stage Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. All roles (regardless of gender) are performed by women.

Anton in Show Business is so well written that you won’t have to know a thing about Three Sisters in order to laugh your way through the evening. The writing is sharp, knowing, and cuts to the quick (Jane Martin is rumored to be the nom de plume of John Jory, the former Artistic Director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville). The key roles are:

  • T-Anne, the stage manager for a small theatre in New York where Kate and Ralph are holding a casting call for Three Sisters. T-Anne is not impressed by actors. T-Anne is not impressed by anybody.
  • Holly Seabé, a young woman of devastating beauty who has become a television star. Although her resume is extremely light (Holly got fired from a porn film because she actually cried when she had her first orgasm), she knows how to throw her weight around and make people pay for any perceived insults.
  • Lisabette Cartwright, a drama major from La Vernia, Texas who, after graduating from Southern Methodist University (SMU), promptly started teaching third grade at Maple Elementary School. Lisabette, who likes to give Jesus credit where credit is due, has decided to go for the big magical moment that she’s heard can be found onstage.
  • Casey Mulgraw, an actress in her late 30s who is known as the Queen of Off-Off-Broadway. A cancer survivor, Casey has performed in over 200 productions where — although she’s always managed to have sex with someone in the cast — she has never been paid to act..
  • Joby, a recent graduate with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Dramaturgy who has been given a chance to write a 100-word review of Three Sisters for a San Antonio shopping guide
  • Kate, an overeducated graduate of Harvard, Stanford, and Yale who has become the artistic director of the San Antonio Actors Express. Kate is currently producing Three Sisters.
  • Ralph Brightly, a Quentin Crisp-like stage director. The epitome of a limp-wristed, fey Brit.
  • Andwyneth Wyoré, an African American stage director Kate has hired to replace Ralph after he is summarily fired by Holly.
  • Jackey, the extremely effeminate wardrobe master for San Antonio Actors Express
  • Ben Shipwright, the butch cowboy playing the role of Vershinin who falls for Holly, leaves his wife and kids, but gets humped and dumped as soon as Holly gets an offer to be in a Hollywood film.
  • Wikéwitch, the Russian stage director hired by Kate to replace Andwyneth after she leaves the production in a huff.
  • Don Blount, the regional director of corporate philanthropy for a large tobacco company.
  • Joe Bob, the Texas “good ol’ boy” who tells Kate why he’s so happy that her theatre company has lost its funding.

TheatreFIRST’s artistic director, Michael Storm (who directed the production), notes that:

Anton in Show Business is a terrific play. There are many reasons to produce it, not the least of which is that it is a great play for women. But beyond that (and perhaps most important) is that it speaks to the business of theatre overall, including the lack of roles for women. Anton in Show Business is a great way to help inform our audience about the business of theatre and a great way to laugh at ourselves. I think this is important because I’m constantly amazed at how little people know about a life in the theatre.”

Storm’s ensemble delivered some exceptionally fine work. I was particularly impressed by Josie Alvarez (Holly), Shannon Veon Kase (Kate, Jackey, and Ben), and Amaka Izuchi (T-Anne, Andwyneth, and Don Blount). Phoebe [Moyer’s] superb portrayals of Ralph Brightly, Wikéwitch, and Joe Bob were right on the mark.

Anton in Show Business continues through September 26 at the Marion E. Greene Black Box Theatre. I had a rollicking good time and so will you. Order your tickets here.

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