By Evalyn Hansen: It's a life made up of cavalier characters that band together to tell secrets, bare souls and sweat blood in order to create a bit of ephemeral magic in a short period of time.

"Anton in Show Business," the hefty and hilarious backstage satire playing at Southern Oregon University's Center Square Theatre, is written by Jane Martin, a pseudonym for Jon Jory, one of the country's leading professional directors and theater teachers. This well-done, droll comedy exposes the inane world of theater as its assorted characters mount a catastrophic production of Anton Chekhov's "The Three Sisters" in San Antonio, Texas.

Show business routinely puts its professionals into bizarre situations. Careers, personal lives, finances and families are in constant jeopardy. It's a life made up of cavalier characters that band together to tell secrets, bare souls and sweat blood in order to create a bit of ephemeral magic in a short period of time.

As the comedy careens from New York to Texas, several directors are unsuccessfully hired. Director Andwyneth (Ashley Bragg) has a multicultural concept, "No more whine and dine with Brother Chekhov." He wants a "Little dance drama thing, little street corner doo-wap." But the famed Polish director Wikewitch (Tara Watkins) prepares his actresses with, "Peel off skin. Rip open body. Lungs, liver, spleen. Okay. Begin."

Director Scott Kaiser Scott elicits brilliant performances from his actors. Cast as "The Three Sisters" are three unlikely actresses. Holly (Katie Torcum), a surgically enhanced and sex-starved TV starlet, lives the sexploitation game. Lisabette (the inspired Lauryn Hochberg), a gangly elementary school teacher, on a lark gawks and spreads her congenial down-home wisdom. Casey (Robyn Pucay), humorless, bluntly honest and paranoid, sulks about her less-than-glamorous image. All have compelling stories, filled with anguish, especially about their sexual exploits.

Don Blount (Maire Murphy) swaggers, delightfully drunk with power, as the amoral Vice President of Albert and Sons Tobacco (the wonderful corporate sponsor). Don is quite candid, —¦if you take money from us it is disingenuous to make a pretense of morality"¦"

Elizabeth Poe deftly portrays Ralph the "old British fairy," Ben "the very sweet cowboy" and Jackey, the gay designer who insists costumes stay with-in the period of the play, "1901, honeydoll, no tits, no slits."

Joby (Briawna Jackson), the self-important but earnest local critic, explodes from the sidelines, —¦I want the highest quality moments for my life I can get, and you are supposed to provide them, though you usually don't, so when I write my review"¦"

The grungy backstage setting by Daniel Haskett is so perfectly non-descript, and the lighting by Catherine E. Ridenour is well enough defined and combined with the sound design by Chris Sackett to delineate the sundry scenes which morph into one another in numerous locations.

Although Chekhov's "The Three Sisters" seems to go into a tailspin when Hollywood calls, the actors have come together to create some semblance of art and a flash of brilliance before they depart.

"Anton in Show Business" plays Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and information, call 552-6348.

Evalyn Hansen is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Contact her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com