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[whitespace] Anton in Show Business Waiting for Chekhov: Kathleen Dobbs (left), Jessica Brie Berkner (center) and Aimee Jolson look for a few good roles in 'Anton.'

Photograph by Dave Lepori

Stage Values

SJ Stage Co.'s 'Anton in Show Business' goes behind the scenes

By Heather Zimmerman

IT'S AN IDEA that every playwright will wish they had thought of: a play with its own theater critic written right into the script. But with Anton in Show Business, Jane Martin (the nom de plume of playwright Jon Jory) offers not only a built-in critic but characters who deliver harsher criticism than the critic. Indeed, Martin's intimately satirical look at the world of theater appears to submit a number of reasons to put the whole business out of business.

Using an ensemble cast playing multiple roles--a typical economizing maneuver of the underfunded theater company, T-Anne, the stage manager (C. Kelly Wright), points out--Martin lays bare the plight of modern theater in a series of bitterly mocking scenes. With the art form tainted by cynical corporate grants, eroded by an emphasis on beauty before talent and picked apart by amateurish criticism, Martin asks, What's the point of theater anymore? And promptly answers--perhaps a bit patly--with a fictitious misfit cast for a regional production of Chekhov's Three Sisters.

The San Antonio Express company casts three unlikely "sisters": Holly (Jessa Brie Berkner), the soap star seeking "chops" in the classics; Casey (Aimee Jolson), the queen of Off-Off-Broadway; and Lisabette (Kathleen Dobbs), the wide-eyed newcomer. Berkner, Jolson and Dobbs play well off of each other and a few minor characters, each nicely fleshed out by Wright, Joan Mankin and E.J. Ndeto. Director Domenique Lozano makes sure this multilayered play-within-a-play snaps with humor.

Anton offers a entertaining enough insider's look at the theater, but there's a certain uneasiness underlying it all. T-Anne declares that modern theater is in grave trouble, and ultimately, the play does a spot-on job of satirizing just how. But in the midst of it, Martin pulls a bait-and-switch routine: sure, modern theater is troubled, but who cares? Theater's value goes far beyond picky semantics, beyond any criticism. And I agree. But its inherent value doesn't negate the criticism that Martin raises and doesn't exactly ever address.

The play presents a true double-edged sword: putting forth both an openly self-serving appreciation and yet a well-deserved dissection of the role of theater in culture. And Anton certainly does illustrate the intangible value of the theater: its power to bring people together and to explore the human condition. But at the risk of sounding like Martin's own critic--well, of course, it's all about heart. If the audience needed reminding of that, would we have come to the theater in the first place?

Anton In Show Business plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm at The Stage, 490 S. First St, San Jose. Tickets are $16-$34. (408.283.7142)

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From the October 11-17, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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