'Anton in Show Business'

Scott Kaiser says that after 25 years in the theater, he feels he knows the off-center characters of Jane Martin's "Anton in Show Business" quite well indeed.

The backstage play humorously targets such types as the difficult director, the sexy actress trying to go high-brow, the self-important critic.

"It certainly skewers just about every aspect he could get his hands on," Kaiser says of Martin, which is widely believed to be a pseudonym for Jon Jory, the long-time artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville.

In his day job, Kaiser is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's head of voice and text. Now he's guest-directing "Anton" for Southern Oregon University's Department of Performing Arts. The play will open at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, in the Center Square Theatre, the smaller of SOU's theaters. Most shows during the run will be at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 14-15.

The play is being presented with an all-female cast, which has been customary since it premiered in 2000 at the Humana Festival in Louisville and received the American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award in 2001. Kaiser says it's a good choice for SOU, which has a lot of young women studying a field in which traditionally there's been a shortage of good female roles.

"It's a great challenge for them," Kaiser says. "They play multiple roles switching between characters and also playing the male characters. It's a pretty wonderful piece for student actors."

The play is the story of three actresses playing the three leading characters in Chekhov's "The Three Sisters" in an ill-fated production in Texas. They are surrounded by theater craziness, including an artistic director with no sense and a corporate funder with no clue.

The faculty typically programs SOU's six-play season, then invites guest directors for some of the plays. Kaiser previously directed "Twelfth Night," "Ghosts" and "The Philadelphia Story" at SOU. He co-directed and adapted "Henry VI, Part One" and "Henry VI, Parts Two and Three" for OSF.

Jane Martin has won several awards but has never made a public appearance. Martin's "Keely and Du" won the 1994 American Theater Critics Association New Play Award and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. But on every occasion, Jory, Martin's spokesman, has accepted the awards on her behalf.

Kaiser says he and his actors talked a bit about Chekhov's "Three Sisters," and he asked them to look at the modern classic play and view various film versions.

"They need to know it somewhat," he says. "But it's surprising how little you need to know. The play is not about Chekhov. It's about theater, and larger than that, how hard it is to make a living in theater, how difficult the life is."

He says the play is a bit like "Slings and Arrows," the funny Canadian television series about the fictional New Burbage Theatre, but perhaps a bit darker.

"It's billed as comedy," he says. "But in a lot of ways it's a comedy the same way Chekhov wrote comedies. There are humorous parts, but it's Chekhovian comedy, a very close look at people's struggles in life. It doesn't fall neatly into categories of satire or farce."

For Kaiser, the play also strengthens the case for Jane Martin being Jon Jory, or somebody very much like him.

"I read the play knowing Jon Jory's history," he says. "Only someone involved in the theater a long time would have written this. It's somebody trying to punch back."

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