Audiences at Anton in Show Business, from Three Sisters Theatre Company, get to glimpse the backstage drama as a group of misfits try to stage Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters. But as economic pressures and personal narratives unravel, the show becomes the background track to their quirky antics. The play parodies the New York theatre scene through a throng of one-dimensional characters, satirizes equity in the theatre, and makes digs at the impossibility of artistry. It’s a play that leans into its sense of irony, and it’s built for the audience who knows a thing or two about the realities of living and working in the arts.
The play unfolds on two levels. On one level, the characters are trying to put on The Three Sisters. On the other, they are aware that they are simply portraying characters who are putting on a play. The play employs this “metatheatrical” guise principally to satirize the convention. It is gimmicky by design.
A play with seven roles for women is a rarity, and this cast showcases some real talent. Iyono Ede as the stage manager opens up the play with a quippy monologue that sets us on the right foot. Ede takes on other characters, too –a hoop-earring donning director who calls to mind Angela Davis, for example–and brings much to the production. Robyn Guy, Shawna Pasini and Robin Hodge function well as a trio, each convincing and committed. Laura Hall as the high-strung producer as well as the “love interest” shows great range by transforming completely between these and others. Rachel Eugster as the inspired if somewhat cryptic European director delivers scads of humour.
But even their combined talents can’t save Jane Martin’s script. The play goes forward at a cripplingly slow pace, punctuated by tangential plot lines. The core characters – the three actresses cast as the three sisters – start to make a bid for the audience’s sympathy (one has breast cancer, another is a “near rape” survivor, for example) but their admissions don’t amount to much in the sea of ever-changing characters, sub-plots, and the caricature-like stage world. What’s more, the staging doesn’t do anything to offset the very weak script. Director Bronwyn Steinberg commits to neither the purely satirical nor the realistic elements that playwright Martin offers. One character (played by Alexis Scott) sits in the audience and casually interrupts and questions the work of the actors on stage. But during her first interruption, none of the actors on stage seem very surprised of off-kilter for the interruption. In fact, there’s even a soft spotlight on the actor in the audience, which fully ruins any type of illusion that this character might offer.
The script is awash with clichés, and hinges on a few funny moments (Eugster as the director yells “I fuck you with my art!” with real conviction to the audience), but these moments don’t bolster the production. There is some speculation that, in fact, Jane Martin is a pen name for a male artistic director, which further complicates the portrayal of the female roles in the script.
The production is at its best in the self-referential moments of satire, but it misses that subtle “wink and nudge” with the audience to really drive it home. Without a fully developed sense of humour, or a strong vision for the staging, the script leaves its audience out on a limb, searching for the heart of the play.
Anton in Show Business plays at the Gladstone Theatre until March 5, 2016.
Stage Manager……Louisa Haché
Costume, Set and Prop Design…..Patrice-Ann Forbes
Lighting Design…..David Magladry
Makeup Design…..Amanda Logan
T-Anne, Andwyneth, and various roles…..Iyono Ede
Lisabetter Cartwright…..Robyn Hodge
Casey Mulgraw…..Robin Guy
Kate, Ben, Jackey…..Laura Hall
Ralph, Wikéwicz, Joe Bob…..Rachel Euster
Holly Seabé…..Shawna Pasini