Anton in Show Business is an intelligent play within a play at Toronto’s intimate Sterling Studio Theatre
The Sterling Studio Theatre is a very charming little venue tucked away in the Bloor and Landsdown area. You’d never suspect the theatrical magic that awaits you behind its unassuming façade. Anton in Show Business is very special. It is my hope that, if I achieve nothing else in the following paragraphs, I convince you to see it!
As my companion and I arrived at the Sterling Studio, which is at the end of a quiet residential side street, we were greeted by members of the company and escorted into the somewhat hidden theatre. The front of house staff knows how to create a warm and inviting atmosphere even before you’ve reached the front door.
This backstage comedy, written by Jane Martin, follows three actresses thrown together for a production of Chekov’s Three Sisters in small-town Texas. The play explores the tension that exists between art and business as these women encounter a myriad of eclectic directors and a southern tycoon. It is a smart and loving testament to the passion, pretension and sleaze that exists in the quirky world of regional theatre.
Very early on, the play makes its self-awareness clear. The action of the play—within a play—is often stopped by the character of a theatre reviewer sitting in the front row. She serves as the critical voice deconstructing the theatrical experience as it unfolds.
The audience is frequently reminded of the mechanics of story and theatrical presentation. This post-modern approach can sometimes feel tired and empty, but not here! The play is never burdened by its abstractions; it employs them perfectly to draw us into the human lives inhabiting that tiny stage.
All eight actors have moments to shine as the action takes them through the joy and heartbreak of theatre life. Almost every scene showcases their ability to blend goofball physical comedy with intense melodrama. The physical presence of the actors is so strong that I knew exactly who these characters were before they had uttered a single line of dialogue.
Directors Danka Scepanovic and Danielle Bourgon have struck a fine balance between heightened theatricality and naturalism. These are very real people on stage and their truth is often best captured in the grandest of entrances and exits. When the writing and performers are this good, there can be honesty in caricature.
I wish I was more familiar with Three Sisters. In Martin’s script, there are subtle echoes of Chekov’s play and I could tell that there is a whole layer I probably missed. Not that the experience was at all lessened by this awareness. If anything, it served as an inspiration to seek out the classic work.
If you love intimate theatre, you must see Anton in Show Business. This is the real deal, folks. Treat yourself to a heartfelt and intelligent script brought to life with performances that are hilarious and poignant.
- Anton In Show Business is playing at the Sterling Studio Theatre (163 Sterling Road, Unit 5) until September 7th.
- Shows run Tuesday through Sunday at 8pm, with additional matinees on August 31 and September 7 at 2pm
- Ticket Prices are $20 for Adults, $15 for Artists and Students, with Matinees $10
- Tickets can be purchased online at the Sterling Studio Theatre Website, or purchased at the theatre box office an hour prior to performance.
Photo provided by the company.