Jane Martin’s Modern Spin on “Three Sisters” Makes Us Laugh!
by Lynne Stevens
Manipulative TV actor Holly snags the lead role of Masha for herself in this modern take on Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters.” Holly turns the idea of the casting couch on its head: She’ll screw anyone to get what she wants. With her it’s all me, me, me.
A little theater in San Antonio, Texas, throws together a well-known television actress, a tired New Yorker, and a naive theater graduate to play in Anton Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters.”
With ego-maniacal TV actor Holly (shameless Emma Attwood) calling the shots because she’s famous, a jaded New York Off-Broadway actor (feisty Trish Tillman) and starry-eyed ingénue (Alix Josefski) get the chance to play Olga and Irina.
We are treated to all the humorous slings and arrows that one encounters in the effort to put on a play. As pretentious male Russian Director Wikéwitch, Scarlett Hepworth scathingly criticizes Holly’s rehearsal. He’s coaching her to “be the lines” not just say them, with a fantastic Eastern European accent.
As a persistent critic called Joby, Dorothy Gray pops up and questions every move. She attacks costumes, sexuality, and motivations from her seat in the audience. She even defends a Black actor who doesn’t need or want defending. After several rounds of this, the cast pounces on her: “She’s a critic!”–to ringing laughter from the audience.
The dark side of getting a production to the stage is demonstrated with an altercation between Casey (Tilman) and Don Blount (gravel voiced Veneita Porter), a Big Tobacco sponsor. The community theater needs the money, but tobacco causes a scandal.
On top of that, the actors become romantically involved. Ben, the country western singer played hilariously by a swaggering Dana Lewenthal, is besotted. Poor Ben falls prey to Holly, a classic homewrecker.
Lewenthal also plays Artistic Director Kate Todoravskia who casts all the roles with women with the reasoning that men get all the good parts, except for the three sisters.
As a brilliant quick-change artist, Lewenthal jumps between three roles! Kudos to Costume Designer Madeline Berger for figuring out how to do this smoothly.
The set, using the minimum of chairs, tables, and rolling doors as entrances, is stealthily shifted around by the cast. A simple solution artfully done by Scenic and Props Designer Devon Labelle.
With subtle background music provided by Daniel “Techno” Debono, we witness the actual last scene of Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters.” After all the pain and laughter of madcap rehearsals, they realize, just like the sisters in Chekhov’s play, that they are resilient. If there is a moral to the story, I’d say it is life goes on; so, just put one foot in front of the other and live it.
Leaving the theater we encountered Scarlett Hepworth and complimented her on a stellar performance. “Tell your friends!” she exclaimed. So, I’m telling you out there: If you want to be thoroughly entertained and have a few good, healthy laughs, drop in on “Anton in Show Business.”
“Anton in Show Business” by Jane Martin, based on the “The Three Sisters” by Anton Chekhov, directed by Marilyn Langbehn, at Contra Costa Civic Theatre, El Cerrito, California Info: CCCT.org – to March 20, 2022.
Cast: Trish Tillman, Emma Attwood, Alix Josefski, Dana Lewenthal, Scarlett Hepworth, Veneita Porter, Lena Sibony, and Dorothy Gray.
Banner photo: Emma Attwood (Holly/Masha), Alix Josefski (Lisabette/Irina) Trish Tillman (Casey/Olga). Photos by Ben Krantz