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. http://www.nytimes.com/1982/04/04/theater/mystery-deepens-at-louisville-new-plays-festival.html
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 http://www.totaltheater.com/?q=node/895
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): http://www.totaltheater.com/?q=node/895
Recent production reviews:
2007, Austin, TX: https://www.austinchronicle.com/arts/2007-04-27/469103/
2013, Tortonto (not favorable): http://slotkinletter.com/2013/08/review-anton-in-show-business
2002, Milwaukee: http://www.totaltheater.com/?q=node/897
2012, Atlanta: http://artsatl.com/review-smart-sharp-%E2%80%9Canton-show-business%E2%80%9D-offers-laughs-season/
2017, Silver Spring, MD: https://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2017/02/25/review-anton-show-business-silver-spring-stage/
Featured photo: Production photo from the 2006 BLKBOX Theater production (San Diego, CA)