Anton in Show Business @ Theatre Building Chicago

The Lighted Match Theatre Company has kicked off its inaugural season with a winning production of Jane Martin’s* Anton in Show Business – a highly self-referential comedic play about the art and sacrifice of working in commercial theatre, featuring an all-female cast. (*Side note: Playwright Martin might not even exist.)

Jill Schmits, Kristin Danko and Emmi Hilger in "Anton in Show Business"
Jill Schmits, Kristin Danko and Emmi Hilger in "Anton in Show Business"

Anton concerns a trio of women cast in a struggling production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters in rural Texas. Holly, played by the appropriately jaded and long-legged Kristin Danko, is the T.V. star whose only reason for doing serious stage work is to earn cred for future movie roles. As the sweet, southern and very green Lisabette, Jill Schmits shines brightly. And Emmi Hilger delivers an assured performance as Casey, a proud veteran of 200 non-salaried roles Off-Off Broadway. In supporting roles, Amber Rae Schafer excels playing various male roles, including the two directors (one a pompous Brit, one an elderly Polish Chekhov expert) who each attempt — and fail — at helming this play-within-a-play. Jacquelyn Prater and Faith Streng round out the cast with verve and gusto, playing everything from cowboy co-stars to lesbian producers to gay costumers.

Sounds insider-y? Yes, Martin is very aware of this. In fact, she’s even included a character in the play representing “the critic” (a droll Emily Bodkin), who calls out the pretentious B.S. from the audience as it plays out before us.

In other words, Anton laughs first at Anton.

The irony here is that Martin’s script strongly alludes to the dying art of theatre. And at this hugely entertaining production, currently squatting on the set of Griffin Theater Company’s The Hostage at Theatre Building Chicago, the seats were mostly empty. So, when Schmits touchingly delivered Lisabette’s final monologue about the state of theatre and the hope for its survival to the scattered audience of a few dozen, it was like holding a mirror up to its own reflection: An infinite corridor of…uncertainty? Fatalism? Irony? Who knows. But, damn! People need to get out and support local theatre!

Anton in Show Business plays through October 31 at the Theatre Building Chicago. For more information, go here.

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