The act of putting on a production is challenging enough. Add in the fact that the production in question is Chekhov, in Texas, starring three actresses from very different parts of the acting community and stages in their careers, and sprinkle in more than a few crises, and you have all the makings of a delightfully chaotic and meta play. This mix of theatrical commentary and narrative is front stage center (and a few other places) in Anton in Show Business, presented by The Arlington Players. Written by Jane Martin and directed by Hilary Adams, this layered comedy is a self-referential theater nerd’s dream. The more you know about the industry, the deeper down the rabbit hole you can go.
The three sisters in the play-within-a-play were the dejected Casey played by Lori Brooks, the diva Holly played by Mikel Gajkowski, and sweet Lisabette played by Emily Gjovik. All standouts in their own right, these three built upon and built up each other from curtain to ghost light. Hardened by her fight to the top, Gajkowski’s Holly pulled no punches in her protection of herself and her pursuit of what, or whom, she wanted. Destructive and selfish, but also vulnerable and hurt, Gajkowski was the definition of fierce. Countering this intensity was Gjovik’s Lisabette. Bringing what is often dismissed as naivety, Gjovik’s performance unfolded into the grounding voice of passion and purpose that reminded her “sisters,” and us all, why we love the arts in the first place. A reminder that Brooks’ Casey needed more than a few times. Heartbreakingly frazzled and self-deprecating, Brooks highlighted the lengths to which a life in theater can undo but also save those who make it their calling, particularly for those who identify as female.
Besides the sisters were three other multifaceted ladies. First was the intricately layered Mary Rodrigues playing Kate, Ben, and Jackey. An expert in the physical side of acting, Rodrigues gave each character their own walk, stance, gestures, and voice, making for an impressive performance every time she took the stage — particularly strong was her embodiment of Ben, an aw-shucks country boy in way over his head when tangling with Holly.
Similarly, Grace Murtha as the multiple directors and “men in power” — Ralph, Wikewitch, and Joe Bob — was this production’s expert in accents. From smirking British director to intense Polish director and ranting chairman of the board, each monologue was wonderfully paced, cheekily delivered, and a delight to watch. The same can be said of the production’s jill-of-all-trades, Vanea Pharr taking on T-Anne the stage manager, Andwyneth the director, Don the corporate exec, and a Gate Attendant with agility and ease.
Someone who also simply must be in this review is Joby played by Kalynn Henderson. Adding even more meta to the mix, her performance dialed up the absurdity to 11 and kept it there — hanging on the wall like Chekhov’s gun throughout — while weaving in yet more comedic and simmering tension.
Henderson’s performance also flung open the door into the larger theme of interpretation laced throughout. Her 100 words invite everyone to consider the interaction of what audiences and artists bring to a show and how it creates something true and different every time. A unique power of the arts that Anton in Show Business shines the center spot on.
Spotlights and ghost lights were designed by Jeff Auerbach and Kim Crago, highlighting the jigsaw puzzle of a set by Skip Gresko. Together with prop design by Griffin Voltmann, set dressing by Allison Grey-Mendes, sound design by Janice Rivera, costume design by Anna Marquardt, and makeup and hair design by Robin Maline and Lanae Sterrett, this creative team peeled back the layers of theater productions to show the roughly sketched lines of the rehearsal and creation process, making it feel like a third layer of this play-within-a-play.
Whether laughing because of the ridiculous truth behind a line, to keep from crying, or at the joy of feeling something, Anton in Show Business presented by The Arlington Players covers the highs and lows of this biz unlike any other. Grab a ticket and buckle up to examine the addictive, complicated, and life-altering experiences core to this dizzying world we call the American theater.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
Anton in Show Business plays through February 18, 2024, presented by The Arlington Players performing at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre, 125 South Old Glebe Road, Arlington, VA. Tickets ($30 for adults, $25 for seniors and military, and $20 for students and children) can be purchased online or by contacting The Box Office at 703-549-1063 or via email ([email protected]).
Anton in Show Business
Written by Jane Martin
Casey – Lori Brooks
Holly – Mikel Gajkowski
Lisabette – Emily Gjovik
Joby – Kalynn Henderson
Kate/Ben/Jackey – Mary Rodrigues
Ralph/Wikewitch/Joe Bob – Grace Murtha
T-Anne/Andwyneth/Don/Gate Attendant – Vanea Pharr
Producer – Allison Grey-Mendes
Director – Hilary Adams
Stage Manager – Ramah Johnson
Set Design – Skip Gresko
Lead Carpenter – Skip Gresko
Lead Painter and Scenic Design – Mercedes Chatterton
Prop Design – Griffin Voltmann
Set Dresser – Allison Grey-Mendes
Lighting Design – Jeff Auerbach, Kim Crago
Sound Design – Janice Rivera
Sound Mixer – Daniel (Dan) Interiano
Costume Design – Anna Marquardt
Makeup & Hair Design – Robin Maline, Lanae Sterrett
Fight Choreographer – EJ Jonas
Intimacy Choreographer – EJ Jonas
Dramaturg – Griffin Voltmann
Dialect Coach – Hilary Adams