Category Archives: theatre history

Anton in Show Business by “Jane Martin”: An Analysis for Production

T-Anne: The American Theatre’s in a shitload of trouble. That’s why the stage is bare, and it’s a cast of six…Like a lot of plays you’ve seen at the end of the twentieth century, we all have to play a lot of parts to make the whole thing economically viable.

Caveat: I read this beautiful, brilliant, feminist, and very funny play having been passingly familiar with the title, and naively assuming that it was authored by a woman. The gender and identity of “Jane Martin” are part of its mystique. Most speculations point to male authorship, in part or in entirety.

I checked out Leading Women: Plays for Actresses II, edited by Eric Lane and Nina Shengold (ISBN 037572667) hoping for a volume from which I could mine some gold for my series on plays written by women. The tome includes some worthy titles that I love and had already read: Marguiles’ (male) Collected Stories, and Son’s (female) Stop Kiss. Ball’s (male) Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is a dated piece with which I’m very familiar, and of which I’m not enthused. I rejected two of the plays, for dubious producibility in my markets, before finishing them: Corthorn’s (female) Breath, Boom, Jordan’s (female) Smoking Lesson, and McLaughlin’s (female) Tongue of a Bird. The collection also includes one-acts and stand alone monologues which may be wonderful, but aren’t my “thing.”

Anton in Show Business skewers everything that is peculiar and maddening about American Theatre. It does so particularly in regards to being a woman in that milieu, and with such aplomb that one could see its cast of actors and some audience members rampaging other theatres after the curtain falls. Hopefully and perhaps, this battalion might leave nothing but salted fields for anyone short-sighted enough to propose another production of The Marvelous Swim Club of Church Basement Nuns. Unfortunately, some dialogue, no matter how on-point, poignant, perfect and passing may breach the toleration of censors and patrons in smaller, more conservative markets.

The fast-paced comedy follows three actresses from NY auditions (don’t worry they don’t stay long) for Chekov’s Three Sisters to a regional theatre in Texas where artistic hopes and dreams do battle with commercial realities and compromise.  All characters, regardless of gender,  (even the quick-change crew) are played by women. Each scene lampoons (lays bare?) American theatre’s idolatry of Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre, the cult of celebrity, “artistic concepts,”  blind Anglophilia, and seemingly hundreds of other sacred cows and self-loathing preoccupations .

Recommendation: STRONG: with reservations

Pros: The casting will make use of so many of your wonderful actresses which are sadly disproportionate to number of roles you can usually offer them. The latter is another elephant pointed out in the action. The dialogue is hilarious, fast-paced and non-stop. All locations are implied by props on a practically bare stage (cost reduction?).


                   Language/Topics: One actor reveals, briefly, that she was sexually assaulted (“sort of halfway raped by a plumber”).  Another actor reveals her first orgasm (“I came.”) occurred while filming a pornographic movie. Both are sad/funny moments. The common vulgarities (shit, damn, fuck?, etc.) are true and passing, and as offensive as watching a 22-year old stubbing her toe. Women play men, and kiss other women passionately.

                   Props/Costumes: Women as men, an Afrocentric character, an airport waiting area with airline desk, one partially-built period costume, several quick changes

                   Dialects/Accents: Stereotypical African American, English, Polish/Eastern European, Texas/Southern

                   Casting: One actor should be African-American

Cast: At least 7 women, some regional accents, all characters 22-40. As many female stagehands as you can hire. See Challenges above.

Set: Open stage with many specific furniture pieces: airline seats

Royalties (professional): $100 per performance

Costumes: Dozens, including several quick changes, contemporary Costumes / street clothes, see Challenges above

Props: See Challenges above

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with an intermission

Controversial topics: sexual assault, promiscuity, pornography, infidelity, cosmetic surgery, sexual quid pro quo


Suitable for: Regional theatre, college theatre, very adventurous community theatre



  • Winner: 2001 American Theatre Critics Steinberg New Play Award


  • Best Foreign Play of the Year Award in Germany from Theatre Heute magazine (Germany)
  • Pulitzer Prize nominee; 1994 American Theatre Critics Association Best New Play Award (Keely and Du)
  • 1997 American Theatre Critics Association Best New Play Award (Jack and Jill)


2000, Original production, Actors Theatre of Louisville (KY):

Recent production reviews:

2007, Austin, TX:

2013, Tortonto (not favorable):

2002, Milwaukee:

2012, Atlanta:

2017, Silver Spring, MD:

Featured photo: Production photo from the 2006 BLKBOX Theater production (San Diego, CA)


Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley: An Analysis for Production

Chick Boyle: So Rebecca, what are you going to tell Mr. Lloyd about shooting Zachery, uh, what are your reasons gonna be?

Rebeca ‘Babe’: That I didn’t like his looks. That I didn’t like his stinkin’ looks! I don’t like yours either Chickie stick. So leave me alone and I mean it. Just leave me alone!

“At the end of 1980, Crimes of the Heart was produced off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club for a limited, sold-out, engagement of thirty-two performances. By the time the play transferred to Broadway in November, 1981, Crimes of the Heart had received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Henley was the first woman to win the Pulitzer for Drama in twenty-three years, and her play was the first ever to win before opening on Broadway. Crimes of the Heart went on to garner the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New American Play, a Guggenheim Award, and a Tony nomination. The tremendously successful Broadway production ran for 535 performances, spawning regional productions in London, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Houston. The success of the play—and especially the prestige of the Pulitzer award—assured Henley’s place among the elite of the American theatre for years to come. As Henley herself put it, with typically wry humor, “winning the Pulitzer Prize means I’ll never have to work in a dog-food factory again” (Haller 44).”

This dark comedy set in the still small town of Hazlehurst, Mississippi (pop. reported in 2016 as 3,883), may well be the archetype by which all plays in this series will earn my recommendation. Crimes of the Heart is well-written, hilarious, character-driven within realistic circumstances, and portrays women as combatants in the war of life, not victims. It happens to have been written by a woman. Especially, for those of you who have read my peculiarities  IT’S NOT SET IN NYC!

It is no surprise that Crimes of the Heart remains a staple in the seasons of many theatres, even though I haven’t ever seen it here in Pleasantville. I checked the production history of our longest running community theatre and despite it being a community theatre’s wet dream (comedy, strong central roles for women, 1 interior set, inexpensive props and costumes), it has never been produced in the 50-year history of the theatre. Perhaps, early on, there were some moral concerns (murder, interracial affair with a teenager, ridiculously failed attempts at suicide)  but most all tawdriness is offstage and the story is done with so much humor, I cannot see how nearly anyone, outside of a Puritan complete with stovepipe hat, would have been, or would ever be offended. This should be produced in every season until the end of time replacing any considered future production of the The Marvelous Swim Club of Church Basement Nuns.

Recommendation: STRONG: YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

Cast: 4w/2m, regional accents, all characters 19-32, Doc walks with a slight limp. Casting notice:

Royalties (professional): $100 per performance

Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission

Costumes: approximately 13 including conservative practical dresses circa 1974 or earlier. 2 men’s costumes: 1 casual, 2 costumes for an attorney (season: fall Mississippi)

Set: single interior: 1974, kitchen of Gothic home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi with table and 4 chairs, practical sink, period oven range (1950s)

Props: saxophone case, weathered luggage circa mid-1960s, bag of pecans (some practical in shell), nylon stockings in point-of-sale packaging (1974) for each night, practical cake, antique phone, twine

Controversial topics: Suicide, infidelity, sexual relations with a minor, attempted murder, dark humor (coma).


Suitable for: community theatre, summer stock, regional theatre



  • 1982 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1982 Tony Award, Best Featured Actress in a Play

Mia Dillon, Mary Beth Hurt

  • 1982 Tony Award, Best Direction of a Play (Melvin Bernhardt)
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play (Mary Beth Hurt)
  • 1981 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play
  • 2002 Lucille Lortel Award, Outstanding Revival

Recent production reviews:

NY Times:

DC Metro Theatre Arts:


Twin Cities Pioneer Press:

The Show-Off by George Kelly: an analysis for production

The Show-Off: A Transcript of Life in Three Acts by George Kelly, Copyright 1924.
In recent theater history, we have seen countless single set drawing room comedies. In 1924, however, George Kelly was seen as a pioneer Continue reading The Show-Off by George Kelly: an analysis for production

Fool for Love by Sam Shepard (1983): an analysis for production

Eddie: “She’s just standing there, staring at me, and I’m staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other. It was like we knew each other from somewhere but we couldn’t place where. But the second we saw each other, that very second, we knew we never stop being in love1.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? The love of Eddie and May, the central characters, does have its share of romance but the words dangerous, doomed, volatile, and visceral may more adequately describe the oscillating storm of their connection. As when the orbits of two planets intersect, attraction yields devastation.

“She's just standing there, staring at me, and I'm staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other.
“She’s just standing there, staring at me, and I’m staring back at her and we can take our eyes off each other.”


1:            a person lacking in judgment or prudence

2:            a :  a retainer formerly kept in great households to provide casual entertainment and commonly dressed in motley with cap, bells, and bauble

b :  one who is victimized or made to appear foolish :  a dupe

3:            a :  a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding

b :  one with a marked propensity or fondness for something <a dancing fool> <a fool for candy>

4:            a cold dessert of pureed fruit mixed with whipped cream or custard

Whereas I think the fourth definition is HILARIOUS, it seems that Eddie, May, the Old Man and most any of my readers would agree that they, and we, are often if not chronically “fools” for love. We enter into love with a “marked propensity or fondness for something (or someone),” and become a “harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding.” When things break bad, and we feel as if we are “dupes, victimized or made to appear foolish.” Often despite the humiliation or even danger, to Love we become the motley fool “kept in (its) great household to provide (its) casual entertainment.”

Perhaps this is best left to the theatre professors, but Shepard has a knack for creating a new mythology. As in Tooth of the Crime, Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class, Shepard expands archetypes into extraordinary icons. Just as the sins of the father become an ever-present overlord in our fated struggle, the ghostly Old Man (father to both Eddie and May) literally holds court as his fools “provide casual entertainment.” He serves as a fusion of post-realist and Greek theatrical traditions in the dual role of cautionary chorus and omniscient but ambivalent god. Eddie and May are both familiar and tragic heroes headed for cyclical fates. Martin, May’s naïve first-date gentleman caller, is simply a foil, catalyst, and innocent traveler trapped in the tempest of a natural disaster.

On the surface this play is straightforward with simplistic production requirements:

Cast: 3 men (30s-70s) / 1 women (30s)

Set: “Stark, low-rent motel (room) on the edge of the Mojave Desert”

Costumes: Contemporary, western

Royalties: $100/performance, plus suggested use of 2 Merle Haggard tunes

On further reading, the production becomes even more demanding. Fool for Love requires two strong leads in 30’s that must develop the depth of a 15-20 year complicated relationship. The set includes two doors that are “amplified with microphones and the bass drum head in the frame so that each time after (an actor) slams it, the door blooms loud and long.” It might be replaced by a sound effect, but this could easily violate Shepard’s intention to communicate the power of Eddie and May’s relationship in terms that are literally tangible to the audience, and directly and immediately connected to characters’ behaviors. Attempting to accomplish this play without physically trained actors and an experienced stage combat choreographer is foolish as it would guarantee injuries and unpredictable destruction of properties and set pieces. No organization can afford either.

Censorial concerns: 24 instances of language and phrases considered profane including “fuckin’(1),”; “twat(1),” “pussy (2)”, “goddamn (3),” “shit(5),” and crude references to sexual intercourse (2). Strong domestic violence; no sexual abuse.


Sam Shepard3:

  • Renowned as a canonical American author
  • Cannes Palme d’Or
  • Pulitzer Prize
  • OBIEs for “Melodrama Play” (1968), “Cowboys #2” (1968), “The Tooth of the Crime” (1972).
  • Received grants from the Rockefeller and the Guggenheim Foundations
  • Drama Desk Award and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play: “A Lie of the Mind” (1986)


  • Adapted into a 1985 motion picture starring Sam Shepard, Kim Basinger, Harry Dean Stanton, and Randy Quaid4
  • Original production starred Ed Harris and Kathy Baker1
  • New York, London
  • Williamstown Theater Festival in Williamstown, MA on July 24, 20145

Recommendation: STRONG with caveats. Sam Shepard is quite possibly our greatest living American playwright. The setting is rural (not NYC!). The theme of destructive and unavoidable power of attraction is timeless. The central acting parts are epic. You may be lucky enough to have a certified combat choreographer in your ensemble, the budget to hire one, or even have the fortune to have her/him direct or star in your production.

Available for lending from Princeton Public Library, Princeton, IL


  1. Fool for Love and The Sad Lament of Pecos Bill on the Eve of Killing His Wife. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1983.
  2. (8/14/2015 3:39 PM)
  3. (8/14/2015 4:55 PM)