Arts and Entertainment

Holding a mirror up to American theater

Randa Jo Downs as Jackey, Jackie O’Brien as Holly in contemplation during BPA’s “Anton in Show Business.” - courtesy photo
Randa Jo Downs as Jackey, Jackie O’Brien as Holly in contemplation during BPA’s “Anton in Show Business.”
— image credit: courtesy photo

t’s always healthy to be able to step back and laugh at oneself, they say.

If that is true, Bainbridge Performing Arts will be in top-notch shape by the end of this month. They’ll be laughing at themselves, or at least the work they do, through the production of “Anton in Show Business” — Louisville playwright Jane Martin’s assault on the state of American Theater — showing through Feb. 24 at BPA, 200 Madison Ave. N. on Bainbridge.

The play was written in 2000, initially set in the mecca of all things American Theater, New York City. Its reach, however, extends to community and smaller mainstage theaters around the country, all the way to San Antonio and even here on Bainbridge Island, while maintaining its relevance in subject matter eight years later.

The bomb is dropped right off the bat.

“The American theater is in a (expletive deleted) load of trouble,” T-Anne, a weathered stage manager character, played by Judy A. Young at BPA, opens the play.

The show then delves into that statement and why and how it’s come to be through the portrait of three actresses — one, Holly (Jackie O’Brien) at the top of the glamour/power chain, another, Lisabette (Jocelyn Maher), a country bumpkin in her first big show and a cynical third, Casey (Rozzella Kolbegger), who’s a bit hung over from celebrating her 200th play but has yet to earn a paycheck.

They’ve all just been cast for a production of “The Three Sisters” by Anton Chekhov.

“That’s the ultimate experience,” BPA director Kate Carruthers said of why she thinks Martin chose Chekov’s work. “Actors really aspire to do Chekhov, they are striving for the ultimate experience and for it to mean something.”

Which is, for the most part, true. But the irony is that Chekhov, who started his career as a joke writer, considered all of his plays as comedy, thus it would seem these actors are striving for the ultimate meaningful experience through a piece of work created ultimately for entertainment.

“Anton” is laden with that kind irony, and the question of self-worth persists throughout the show.

“(Martin) is taking and really holding up a mirror to theater,” Carruthers said.

The set is bare, the roles are played by all women, and it seems the comedy is one of the only things that keeps everyone from breaking down and crying. Though Martin’s work is described as a “madcap backstage comedy,” it’s also a tragic story about a theater group treading water.

Still it’s replete with plenty of light-hearted sarcasm, satire and sexual innuendo. It kicks off with a lot of laughs and a great deal of zeal, but by the end, leaves you wondering how much more can they take.

“It’s like this wild roller coaster ride of a play, but it ends on a beautiful note,” Carruthers said. “It’s kind of like life, it’s ludicrous and heart-breaking, it’s also stupid and meaningless ... but you have to find your own meaning in it.”

In the end, we can only do what we can do, but the question is, is it good enough?

“Anton in Show Business,” a comedy by Jane Martin, debuted Feb. 8 at Bainbridge Performing Arts. The show, directed by Kate Carruthers, runs through Feb. 24 with curtains at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays at BPA, 200 Madison Ave. N on Bainbridge. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors students and youth. Info: www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org or call (206) 842-4560.

Beyond the Script

Discussing theatre’s place in the entertainment universe

Feb. 17.

There will be a free Beyond the Script discussion on one of the main issues facing contemporary theater from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Feb. 17, preceding the matinee showing of “Anton in Show Business.” As the world of drama grows ever more estranged from the straight-forward business of telling stories, what will keep its creative fire alive?

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