April 3, 2001


Anton in Show Business

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning






















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

For more information about Anton, or Actors Theatre of Charlotte, please visit www.actorstheatrecharlotte.org.

aired on WFAE, April 6, 2001

Anton In Show Business, written by Jane Martin, and performed in Spirit Square by the Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, satirizes, celebrates, and challenges the importance of theatre as an art form. The critical favorite at the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville last year, this play within a play within a play takes on funding, hard-as-steel starlets, aging audiences, burned-out actors who just can't quit, and that time-worn, but never fully exhausted role of a naive, small town actress with stars in her eyes. This is a rich play for theater lovers. It is full of insider innuendo, and plenty of wit.

The play opens in New York, where three actresses are cast to play Chekov's Three Sisters in a San Antonio production of this high-brow play. Amy-Lin Slezak plays Casey, who is quietly competent, but not nearly as homely as the script requires, as the Off Off Off Broadway veteran who can't stop acting, though in her heart she knows her time to be discovered will never come.

Charlotte newcomer Kellyn Ellwood wraps her shapely dancer legs around the role of TV star Holly Sabae, whose 17 plastic surgeries have resulted in her natural beauty, but who suffers from a lack of respect, and is haughtily (and a tad desperately) seeking validity via the stage. Budding actress and self proclaimed hick Lisabette, played by Leslie Beckham is the third Chekov sister, whose every starstruck illusion is challenged by the harsh reality of executing a production.

The three sisters take a backstage seat to the radiant display of talent showcased by two actresses who each play three characters. Donna Baldwin-Bradby shines as the bombastic director of black rage theater, a stage manager, and a Don King look-a-like corporate sponsor. Margaret Anich excels as an overeducated lesbian producer with unbelievable hair, a home-town cowboy, and a homosexual costume designer.

The play allows for the actors to both act, and to analyze and defend their roles as actors. The African-American actress justifies playing a stereotype because if she refused roles that offended her, she'd be unemployed. The producer defends her decision to cast women as men, with a cry for improved female roles.

The play ultimately succeeds in its mastery of stage technique. Use of three actors for nine very distinct roles, and set changes performed by four women dressed in black in the middle of scenes exemplify shoestring theater. A simple set with two platforms and sparse furniture configurations segued from a stage in New York, to an airplane, to a bedroom in Texas. A few line trips, and a slight problem with a curtain exit barely rippled the smooth professionalism of Dennis Delamar's direction.

I see Anton in Show Business as a metaphor for any kind of art. Can it exist without the corporate sponsorship that arguably undermines it? Will the cost of a Stanford, Harvard and Yale education ever be recouped by a regional artist? Can a pompous Brit successfully direct a Russian play in Texas? Is there a man on earth who can deny himself a beautiful famous woman who throws herself at him? And most importantly, does a night at the theatre, or a day at the museum, or a poetry reading improve our "quality of life" in this digital age? This plays asks all the right questions.

Lynn Trenning, April 3, 2001

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