THE BASICS: ANTON IN SHOW BUSINESS, a play by Jane Martin, directed by Lara D. Haberberger, starring Rachael Buchanan, Heather Fangsrud, Corey Gorski, Kaeli McGinnis, Davida Tolbert, Alyssa Walsh, and Stefanie Warnick, runs through May 22, Fridays-Saturdays at 7:30, with one Sunday show May 22 at 2 pm, at the Alleyway Cabaret (part of the Alleyway Theatre) 1 Curtain Up Alley between Pearl and Main behind Shea’s Buffalo. 716-598-1586 or visit brazenfacedvarlets.org or go on Facebook or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/5425950 Runtime 2 hours, 15 minutes including one intermission (bar is also open before and after the show). (And bring a little extra cash to donate to Planned Parenthood before or after the show.)
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: As three women pursue their own personal dreams of performing Anton Chekhov’s THREE SISTERS, every possible aspect of “putting on a show” is skewered in this comedy, from choosing which show to put on to begin with, to hiring a director, working with the board, donors, and underwriters, to why actors do what they do, and why critics do what they do. Nobody is spared, not the stage manager, the costume designer, the agent, Actor’s Equity, gender inequality, and the egos, just to name a few of the topics touched on. Find out more in the series of short videos featuring the actresses on Facebook’s BRAZEN FACED VARLETS page.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: As the play opens we learn that “Actor’s Express” a small women’s theater company in San Antonio is casting for Chekhov’s play THREE SISTERS. Lisabette (Stefanie Warnick) the inexperienced wide-eyed third-grade teacher looking for a new career meets Casey (Alyssa Walsh) who’s done hundreds of auditions most of which have ended badly or in unpaid community theater roles. As the two women are abused by the casting director, the glam television star “Holly Seabé” uses her star power to exact some small measure of justice for Lisabette and Casey. Holly’s only there because she’s been advised by her agent to add cred to her resume with some serious stage work which might finally get her a coveted film role. Flirty but flinty, with this character it’s not personal, it’s all business. And so our trio is complete: perky Lisabette, world-weary Casey, and clear-eyed Holly. For you Chekhov mavens (and YOU DO NOT HAVE TO KNOW CHEKHOV TO ENJOY THIS SHOW) Lisabette seems right to play Irina, Casey to play Olga, and Holly to play Masha.
Local college theater programs came up looking pretty good in this production, with standout performances from NU grad Rachael Buchanan as the glam “Holly Seabé” and Buff State grad, Kaeli McGinnis playing a variety of roles, each one funnier than the other. She inhabits each role completely, her comic timing is impeccable, and we want to see more McGinnis in future productions.
Also great with timing, and getting peals of laughter by just holding a grin for that extra second, was Davida Evette Tolbert in a variety of roles, perhaps funniest as Airline Gate Announcer.
Fangsrud really brought home the borscht on this one. Fabulous.
But for me the standout of the evening was Brazen Faced Varlets regular Heather Fangsrud (among other roles) in a pants role as the Russian director hired at the last minute. He’s obnoxious beyond belief (“I am director and I am God”), but, at the same time, kind of right, too. Fangsrud really brought home the borscht on this one. Fabulous.
Alyssa Walsh was solid as Casey, who’s seen it all, as was Corey Gorski (another Buff Stater) in the role of an audience member named Joby. It’s all extremely “meta” – a play about putting on a play – and at times it may have been just a touch heavy on “insider” jokes, but certainly, that was just a touch. Nothing is sacred in this play, and the jokes come fast and furious, so if one doesn’t quite land for you, the next one will. And we even get to meet a theater reviewer for the local shopper’s guide who has been allowed 100 words sandwiched between advertisements.
As a director, Lara D. Haberberger was able to take full advantage of the rather small Alleyway Cabaret stage and with clever blocking and minimal sets gave everyone room to move. The costumes by Rachel Maggs were funny, and Leyla Gentil did her usual skillful job as Stage Manager, even screwing up (on purpose) the early lighting and SFX cues. As I said, it’s super-meta-expialidocious, but it works.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some compelling reason for you to attend (e.g. you are the parent of someone in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!