By Sarah Van Harpen   Published Oct 15, 2002 at 5:04 AM

You may think upon first glance of "Anton in Show Business," which opened the Renaissance Theaterworks' 10th season this weekend, that this is theater for theater people. But keep watching. "Anton in Show Business" is a hilarious look at the regional theater, how it manages to stay alive and who the people are that make up its world. No theater facet goes untouched in this play, from the sketchy tobacco company sponsor to the theater critic, and even the audience plays a small role.

Fate and timing bring three very different actresses together to put on the classic Anton Chekov play, "The Three Sisters," at a small theater in San Antonio. One actress, Holly (Terry Tuttle), is a TV star trying to break into the film business. In order to do so, she must incorporate some classical works into her repertoire, hence her willingness to perform at the small and somewhat unknown theater.

Casey (Sarah Behrendt) is a seasoned (in more ways than one) actress of a conventional variety, paying off major school debt to pursue her dream in the theater. And the ever-so-sweet Lisabette (Amy Geyser) is a bright-eyed southern-belle schoolteacher trying to make her big break on the stage. Together the women encounter an array of theater hurdles including director changes, funding-pulls, off-stage romance and the occasional dramatic meltdown.

All three of these women bring something unique to their roles. Terry Tuttle is a perfect fit as Holly, the beautiful and beguiling TV star, on her "take no prisoners" mission for stardom that has gone slightly out of control. Sarah Behrendt performs her role as Casey with a pragmatic sense, perfectly believable as she shares her struggle against the typecast and with her love-hate relationship with the stage, she is a realist with a dream.

Amy Geyser who plays Lisabette is like sugar -- a pure-white stage virgin with a refreshing yet odd pseudo-innocence. All three women are truly entertaining, and absorb the audience into their intimate backstage world.


The straight-faced and hysterical Julie Swenson Petras takes on the role of several theater personalities and performs each one with perfect subtlety. And Sophia Dhaliwal also wears her many roles in the play with dramatic ease, and deadpan humor.

Not much is known about the playwright for "Anton in Show Business," the evasive Jane Martin. It is said that Martin may be a pseudonym for Jon Jory, a former producing director of the Actors Theatre in Louisville where many of Martin's plays have debuted.

"Anton in Show Business" gives a little laugh at itself and in the process gains a healthy perspective of the good, the bad and the ugly in the world of stage entertainment. It poses questions and highlights more than a few ever-present theater clichés. Don't let any seriousness, however, get into way of just enjoying this very smart and very funny show.

"Anton in Show Business" will be playing through Sat., Oct. 26 at the Off-Broadway Theatre, located at 342 N. Water St. Tickets range from $15-$22. Tickets for students and seniors with a valid identification are $17 and tickets for groups of 15 or more are $15. Mon., Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. will be a pay-what-you-can performance. You can catch talk back sessions with the actors after the performances on Thurs., Oct. 17 and Thurs., Oct. 24. For more tickets and information call (414) 278-0765.