theater: the plight of modern theater 

"Anton in Show Business" reveals the true heart of theater, without losing the laughs.

In the case of "Anton in Show Business" — which was named the Best New Play of 2001 by the American Theatre Critics Association — playwright Jane Martin all but confesses that the male-free cast is a deliberate effort to even the score. According to Martin, 80 percent of the roles in American theater are played by men, and 90 percent of directors also are men. Therefore, this elusive playwright wrote a comedy and specified that women play all the roles, including the stagehands, a magnanimous move for female performers since Jane Martin is really a man. That's another story.

In short, "Anton" is a self-referential play that satirizes the world of theater. No one is out of range for razzing: the body-beautiful starlet, the fussy costume designer, the foreign director, the audience itself. Even the revered Chekov takes a few jibes. Believe it or not, there is a point in the play when the playwright actually has the nerve to poke fun at the theater critic.

In any event, this play has something for everyone. If you're not laughing at the inside jokes, you'll be laughing at the insiders, like the out-of-work equity actor pouting in the audience. Nicole Pintal, Kim Neblett, and in particular, Sara Heifetz each have three roles and do a bang-up job changing genders and accents. Jennifer Shaevel as the ever-disruptive audience member (a theater critic wannabe) escorts us in and out of the scenes.

Fortunately, playwright Jane Martin knows the depth of theater and ties a tender knot around the roles of three women who are cast in Chekov's "Three Sisters." That's right, it's a play within a play.

Liz Ernest gives a stunning performance as Holly the blonde bombshell soap star who reveals she not only has a brain, but a heart as well. Harriett Traylor is a natural in the role of Casey, the actress who has performed in hundreds of off-off-Broadway shows for the sake of art. Erin Thomas as Lisabette captures the hopeful spirit of the starry-eyed novice and delivers the touching lines at the end of the play that remind us why we come to the theater — not just to be entertained, but to be moved in a memorable way.

Jane Martin, I believe, would be proud of this cast. Two years ago, I attended the world premiere of "Anton in Show Biz" at the Humana Theater Festival in Louisville, and these women achieved something I didn't experience in that production. When you leave a play, as I did at Firehouse Theatre, with a smile on your face and a lump in your throat, the cast has accomplished the magical outcome of which all playwrights dream. S

"Anton in Show Business" at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St., runs through Sept. 29. Tickets cost $8-$15 and can be purchased by calling 355-2001 or at


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