Jane Martin is the pseudonym for a playwright who, among other honors, has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. That very same anonymous “Jane Martin” is the author of “Anton in Show Business,” most recently staged here in the DC area by The Arlington Players. “Anton in Show Business” is a raucous, meta, fourth-wall-breaking comedy that makes some serious underlying points about the gender gap in theatre and about what it actually takes to get a show up and running.
…a raucous, meta, fourth-wall-breaking comedy that makes some serious underlying points about the gender gap in theatre and about what it actually takes to get a show up and running.
Hoping to stage Chekov’s “Three Sisters” somewhere in San Antonio, a producer with Actor’s Express hires a TV star with movie aspirations, a third-grade teacher who gave it all up to heed her calling, and a veteran of off-off-off-Broadway who’s just hoping to avoid eventual character actor status. These three unlikely “sisters” make the trek to Texas where, under the guidance of a revolving door of directors, they are determined to put on the best Chekov production ever. But “best” is a relative term here and, actually, so is Chekov.
The play is not about Chekov nor is it about a struggling theatrical endeavor that lacks funds and any sort of fanbase. No, this is a play about what it means to pour your heart and soul into a production for the sake of entertaining audiences and for the pure love of theatre itself. A theatre life is not for everybody. In fact, the point here seems to be that it is only for those who seemingly enjoy suffering, a fair dose of humiliation, and poverty more often than not.
The play-within-a-play-within-a-play aspect of this show is really what serves to highlight what theatre means to the practitioners and to the audience—the practitioners, especially. So while in the play proper let’s call it, TV star Holly (a delightful depiction of shallowness “with a heart” by Mikel Gajkowski) has an agenda—namely to get a movie. The naïve Lisabette (the effervescently bubbly Emily Gjovik) has no clue, and perennial ensemble cast member, Casey (a properly droll and dour Lori Brooks), has a bone to pick with being pegged as the “perfect Olga.” All three are also just actors in a local production being staged at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre doing their best to put on a good show, save for the continual interruptions of audience member/aspiring critic Joby (the perfectly Karen-esque Kalynn Henderson). The initial confusion, as you try and sort out what is “text” and what is “subtext,” proves an enchanting knot to untangle, leading to a revelation of sorts about why actors, directors, and producers do what they do.
Joining the actors playing the three sisters and one oversharing audience member are Mary Rodrigues, Grace Murtha, and Vanea Pharr. Each of these three assumes more than one supporting role. Among their characters are a wanna-be country singer for whom Rodrigues brilliantly captures that “aw shucks ma’am” vibe; there’s the stage manager; the many directors—Murtha pulls out some highly entertaining if not exactly spot on accents; and a tobacco company rep—kudos to Pharr’s ability to capture the dismissive “maleness” of this persona. The women in this show play all the parts, and that is the point.
Under the direction of Hilary Adams, cast and crew deftly pull together a piece with numerous moving parts, not to mention a rather rapidly rotating cast of characters. What certainly helps facilitate character changes and play-to-play shifts is the set design. I was highly impressed by how set/scenic designers Skip Gresko, Mercedes Chatterton, and company create a series of sliding tableaus that, in a minimalist and still fully realized way, provide the necessary scene shifts. Light design by Jeffrey Auerbach and Kimberly Crago ,with sound by Janice Rivera, further augment the “reality” of it all.
This play begins with a brief overview of the various types of theatres constituting the hierarchical structure of today’s theatrical world—Broadway and then, well, everything else. What I think this play really shows is that the most interesting iteration of the “theatre world” takes all kinds of forms, all kinds of actors, and all kinds of scripts.
Running time: Two hours with one intermission.
“Anton in Show Business” runs through February 18, 2024, presented by The Arlington Players at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre, 125 South Old Glebe Rd, Arlington, VA 22204. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.