Circle Mirror Transformation
Circle Mirror Transformation
Don't worry. Stick with it. Circle Mirror Transformation is a play that's absurd one moment but incredibly poignant the next. And Theatre Horizon's wonderful new production pulls the audience with ease into the lives of five ordinary people who are much more interesting than they could ever believe.
The characters in Circle Mirror Transformation are at a Vermont community center taking part in a six-week summer acting class for adults. Marty, their teacher, has her students perform exercises to allow them to be "in the moment" while acting. (The play's title refers to one of those acting exercises.) And so we see grown men and women portray inanimate objects, play word games, and share details about their backgrounds. The students approach these drills with gusto at first, but after three weeks of classes, one of the studentsLauren, a tenth grader who dreams of being an actor, or maybe a veterinariancan stand these ridiculous games no longer. A frustrated Lauren asks Marty "Are we going to be doing any real acting? ... Like acting out a play?"
You might regard Circle Mirror Transformation as Baker's way of mocking the creative process and skewering self-absorbed, self-described artists who don't really know what they're doing. But Circle Mirror Transformation isn't just a spoof. These five people may not be learning much about acting, but they end up learning a lot about themselves, each other, and the way they connect with each other. And as we watch relationships blossom and wilt before our eyes, and we see the class galvanize and damage these people, we learn about these lives in intimate and engrossing detail.
Part of the reason the show takes a while to get going is the playwright's technique of having her scenes punctuated by long, silent, uncomfortable blackouts during scene changes. Director Matthew Decker can't overcome that limitation, so the pacing is sluggish at times. But Decker brings out the best in his cast; it's rare to see five actors inhabit their characters so thoroughly and bring out nuances so fluently. Nancy Boykin and Bob Weick play the group's married leaders, ex-hippies who lead a sunny, carefree existenceonly to reveal that their lives are anything but carefree when tension arises. David Bardeen is a morose middle-aged carpenter, newly divorced and showing every disappointment he's ever had on his heavy-lidded face. Kim Carson is the class hottie who is running away from a past relationship, and a new relationship, and perhaps all her relationships. And Emilie Krause is teenaged Lauren, vulnerable and guarded, simultaneously mystified and amused by the whole class. They're all terrific, but Krause and Bardeen give especially raw performancestheir characters always seem to be on the verge of either a breakthrough or a breakdown.
Maura Roche's set is just basic enough to be convincing, and Lauren Perigard's subtly shifting costumes reveal a lot about the characters' attitudes.
Circle Mirror Transformation is a smart, challenging play that's worth the challenge.
Circle Mirror Transformation runs through March 16, 2014, at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb Street, Norristown, Pa. Tickets are $20 to $35, with discounts available for students and seniors, and are available by calling 610-283-2230 or online at www.TheatreHorizon.org.