Metaphysical Theater Draws Big Business
This past weekend’s play, Anton in Show Business, was a show with actors acting as actors talking directly to the audience and the critic (not me - the one played by another actor - but maybe sort of me, too). The play, written by Jane Martin and directed by College junior Anna Strasser, ran in the Little Theater last week through Sunday. It was a humorous general satire of theater, as well as of critics, actors, directors, stereotypes, gender, race and everything else that you could think of that might be loosely connected to the arts. The play mixed in humor, successfully making fun of itself, while also asking and potentially answering some of the important questions in art today: What is art? What do we mean by saying that art is ‘good’ or ‘bad’? What is the purpose of art? Why do we value art?
The seven person, all-female cast demonstrated successful acting. The play begins in New York City at the auditions for a production of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters. Holly, played by College first-year Lauren Friedlander, is a TV star who is well known for her nude scenes and her $40,000 body. She is the anchor of the production The Three Sisters, playing the beautiful sister, Masha. The other two sisters, Lisabette, played by College junior Liz Woodbury and Casey, played by College sophomore Emily Stisser, are cast in the The Three Sisters by Holly, because, as she tells them, “I was once told I was no good, too, and I will never let anyone tell anyone that again.” The play continues and the audience witnesses how Chekhov’s The Three Sisters is skewered and altered by the small regional theater in San Antonio, TX.
In a drunken night, as the three girls begin to bond, uninhibitedly revealing their secrets to one another, the audience similarly falls in love with Holly, Casey and Lisabette. Although one could discern the fact that the three were acting drunk, not actually drunk, their acting still convincingly drew the audience in close before jarringly reminding them that they were watching a play. Throughout the performance and in the midst of these drunken confessions the character Joby, played by College first-year Anya Kazimierski, would stand up, sitting amidst the audience and ask the actors questions, struggling with all the Whys, Whats, Whos and Hows, of the arts.
Joby continually reminded the audience of the fact that they were watching a play, and the other actors repeatedly spoke directly to the audience; it was these metatheatrics that made the play convincing, compelling and moving.
When asked about the minimal set of the play, which consisted of almost nothing, Strasser said, “The audience was, for the most part, always aware they were watching a show in one way or other, and I wanted to supplement that, not fight the conventionality of it.”
Strasser’s conviction to complement the many meta elements of the play was a successful endeavor. The show captivated the audience and stole numerous laughs from them.
As Woodbury said, “I think the show went really well, and Anna made really strong choices. When a show goes up, it feels like the most important thing is how the audience reacts; we had great audiences every single night, and I think most people who came enjoyed themselves.”
The small cast was expanded by having the other three actors each play the parts of three different characters; College junior Jill Murdoch played a British director, a Polish director and a San Antonio theater owner, always showing off prodigious talent. With actors playing multiple characters, women playing men, stereotypes of all sorts simultaneously indulged and rejected, the play brought to light the conventions of the arts, but also the conventions of our culture, asking the audience to question the norms we take for granted and the roles we play in our own society.
Woodbury said that she felt strongly connected to the character that she played. The connection and passion that all the actors put into their performance was evident and touching.
“If you love acting, you can’t deny it.... You can’t make an audience enjoy your work, or see the bigger purpose all the time, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t hope that they can. I agree with Lisabette, I think that art can change people. I’m just not sure it happens as often as we’d like it to or hope it does….It was great to get to be someone, for a little, that had no doubt about that possibility and knew that one day it would happen,” said Woodbury.