Photo courtesy of Alena Kochinski (C’18).
By Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Anton in Show Business arrived in full force to the arena stage in the Proctor Hill Theatre at the start of Family Weekend on October 6. Upon entry to the theatre, the audience is greeted by a stage decked with assorted dramaturgical knickknacks, from movable shelves of costumes and a table strewn with scripts, to a lone lamppost shining centre-stage. These props are drawn to the side a few minutes before the show begins, and T. Anne, played by Emily Riedlinger (C’18), enters and declares, “The American theatre is in a shitload of trouble,” and promptly removes the lamppost. The play begins.
The naïve and enthusiastic Lisabette Cartwright, played by Kate Schumaker (C’19), meets experienced actress Casey Mulgraw (Lydia Klaus, C’19) at a New York audition for The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. They are joined by TV star Holly Sabé (Kalynn Harrington, C’18), who promptly decides she likes them and casts them in the show. The trio fly to Texas, and plunge into rehearsals for their play, which develops as they deepen their friendship. Of course, as a comedy, everything in Anton that could go wrong eventually goes wrong; but through the pain and suffering that each character undergoes emerges the promise that everything will eventually work out.
“It’s just about people pursuing their dreams and trying to reach a certain career goal and trying to see if they can do it,” says Schumaker. “It’s about facing the reality that sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.”
Directed by Peter Smith, Anton in Show Business carefully tackles a few of the issues that American theatre presently faces, such as the lack of roles for women or the stereotypes that face actors of color. Often balancing the fine line between comedy and drama, the play disturbs and delights in equal measure. It is difficult for the reviewer not to see a little of herself in the fourth-wall breaker of the show, Joby, played by Marion Givhan (C’18), as she repeatedly interrupts the scenes to question the motives of the actors or to express her concerns over how some of the issues are executed.
“It’s a very strange play,” says Smith. “It’s taking every cliché thing that could go wrong or abhorrent in a production and putting it in one play.”
Anton is strange indeed, particularly in the way a play about theatre is framed. As Joby asks in the first few scenes of the show, does theatre justify being the subject of a play? This question simmers in the minds of the audience, especially in the beginning, but is soon dismantled. The play, while in itself a backstage play, is indisputably character-centric. Providing insight into the motivation and personality of each character, Anton avoids becoming a merely lacklustre story about the arduous process of theatrical production.
“It’s about the growth of these characters and what motivates them to participate in the theatre,” says Klaus. “It’s more character study in that regard.”
These characters are colourful in their own idiosyncratic ways. The embodying cast and the assisting crew, most of whom are current Sewanee students, are joined by theatre professor Jim Crawford in Anton.
“Sewanee has a tradition of professors acting alongside students,” says Crawford. “I have a very fun part. It’s a chance to walk the walk for my students, not just talk the talk.”
Anton in Show Business is a comedy, but it is much more than that. The different layers it possesses and eventually reveals offers the audience the kind of understanding of theatre and the people working in it that few other plays do. Anton navigates the balance between dark and light themes, and interweaves them into a show that leaves the audience contemplating the nature of human experience.
“I actually had someone come up to me afterwards, and say, ‘I wasn’t sure I was going to like it because they were making fun of theatre and I love theatre’,” recalls Harrington. “But if you can’t laugh at yourself sometimes, then what are you going to do?”