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The Play's the Thing

Getting to the business of Anton in Show Business.

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I had noticed the posters around town advertising, in screaming pink letters, the run of Anton In Show Business at Circuit Playhouse. But I couldn't make sense of it, even after reading what the play was supposed to be: hilarious and smart, a madcap comedy that takes you backstage for a hysterical look into the world of theater. I thought, Do I want to go to the theater to see a play about theater, to be lectured?

Anton In Show Business is a play about the struggles and successes of modern American theater. It centers around three actresses, Holly (Angela Groeschen), Casey (Mary Buchignani), and Lisabette (Mary Hollis Inboden), who find themselves in San Antonio, Texas, and cast for Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters. The actresses represent some of the folks you might meet in the theater world: a naive small-town actress (Lisabette) who believes that theater is the greatest thing in the world and everybody is sooooooooooo nice, a burned-out New York actress (Holly) who lost one breast because of cancer and is grateful for finally getting a paying acting job, and a slutty TV starlet (Casey) who wants to use theater as catapult into fame and fortune.

Right at the beginning, you'll find out that "American theater's in a shitload of trouble" -- not economically viable and not really theater if it's not New York theater performed "sort of between 42nd and 52nd Street." Actresses and actors are frequently out of work anyway, and playwrights, directors, and producers are always bowing to what theater critics demand of them.

Jane Martin's script for Anton calls for females only. All costume changes are supposed to be done by females, most of the actresses play numerous roles, and there are no men acting in the play, though there are male characters.

"Eighty percent of the roles in American theater are played by men, and 90 percent of the directors are men. The point of having a male director played by a woman is to redress the former and satirize the latter. How's that?" asks Kate (Lindsey Scott) who, in Anton, is the producer for Chekhov's Three Sisters. Stressing the obvious without trying to hide the obvious and with the obvious as the subject is a high-wire act. If not done properly, it can easily become very annoying.

But Anton In Show Business balances pretty well, if it weren't for Joby. Joby (Rebecca DeVries) is the ever-questioning conscience, the overly critical audience, and the extremely inquisitive theater critic placed among the audience, frequently interrupting the play. "Is the director supposed to be a man played by a woman? What's the point? Is theater culturally important enough to be the subject of a play? Wasn't that stereotyped behavior?" she asks, and so on.

The exceptionally strong cast, feeding off one another, easily carries the message to the audience, especially in the first act. I understand that Joby is supposed to be the "offstage" part of American theater, but the audience is very capable of "getting the message" without Joby hammering it in throughout the play.

It's not poor acting on DeVries' part. It's what the script calls for. But even though the audience may not be a bunch of intellectuals who read Kant before breakfast, they'll be able to follow. The playwright needed to put a little trust in her audience, challenging but not belittling them.

Overall, the theme -- theater makes fun of the theater -- works well in the first half, loses momentum after the intermission, and becomes almost predictable at the end.

Is it worth going to the theater to see a play about theater? In this case, it is -- but not so much for the play as for the great acting.

Through October 6th.

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