If you were to see your life played out onstage, would you like what you saw? And if you didn’t, what would you do about it? Studio Theatre’s poignant, arresting production of Circle Mirror Transformation begs this question, among others, as five characters explore the emotional underpinnings of drama, including the concept of acting as a vehicle for self-reflection and personal growth.
Circle Mirror Transformation follows the five members of an acting class in the fictional town of Shirley, VT through the arc of their theatrical and emotional development during the six-week course. Led by instructor Marty, participants James, Schultz, Theresa, and Lauren engage in a series of games, exercises, and reenactments, sharing their unique stories with each other in order to mold the drama of everyday existence into rewarding theatrical experiences. As romantic feelings and deeply held secrets surface, plates grind and shift, opening rifts deep below the seemingly calm surface. The actors come to depend on each other for support even as their continued involvement in the class roils emotions and throws previously tranquil lives into disarray.
Playwright Annie Baker has penned an unconventional, challenging text, one that emphasizes halting, overlapping conversation and a meandering storyline over structured speeches and driving narrative. The dialogue feels more natural, and even somewhat improvised, which speaks well both of Baker’s writing and the skill of the performers. It’s refreshing to watch the characters stumble over their words or simply find themselves at a loss as they deal with the vicissitudes of daily life.
The text also features lengthy, sometimes uncomfortable stretches of quiet. In her own notes, Baker details her fascination with silence in theater, extolling in particular its power to rattle audiences and roust them from their comfort zones. Director David Muse and his actors have clearly taken heed of Baker’s intentions, and in the long expanses between conversations, the performers’ emotive body language and facial expressions speak volumes.
The seasoned performers bring a careful balance of humor, vulnerability, and inner strength to the proceedings, and the result is a group of wonderfully fleshed out characters that share in each other’s happiness and pain, serving as both confiders and confidants. Jennifer Mendenhall and MacKenzie Meehan stand out among the strong group of actors.
As the spirited Marty, Mendenhall brings an infectious enthusiasm and hippie charm to the stage. Later in the show, she trades her buoyant energy for a haunting mask of grief and betrayal, as she realizes a terrible truth. As Lauren, Meehan nails the role of the awkward, guileless youth, cutting through the sidestepping and politeness of her four adult classmates and producing some of the funniest and most revelatory moments of the show.
The unique structure, humor and quiet dignity of the text, and marvelous cast add up to a very special production indeed. The show’s key design element, a long horizontal mirror concealed by a curtain, anchors the acting studio set and, more importantly, turns the audience’s gaze back on itself. Every laugh, every frown, and every tear shed provides a fourth wall-breaking backdrop for the action unfolding onstage, and, at show’s end, the mirror revealed a theater full of delighted, thankful faces.
Circle Mirror Transformation
By Annie Baker
Directed by David Muse
Produced by Studio Theatre
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Circle Mirror Transformation is scheduled to run thru Oct 17, 2010.
Click here for details, directions and tickets.
CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION