Circle Mirror Transformation

Bridget Connors, John Shepard, Lauren Blumenfeld, Daina Michelle Griffith
and Daniel Krell

The five meet at a dance studio. They enter and put their jackets, shoes and backpacks into cubbies. They join in a circle to share the "acting experience" through play-acting and touchy-feely games. They end with a particularly challenging yet simple test of patience they cannot perfect. They repeat this for six weekly sessions. We watch them and somehow learn their histories, their secrets and their dreams. Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation is so literal, on paper it may sound redundant and dull. But the playwright has carefully designed the piece to make the emerging revelations natural yet illuminating.

It's important that the audience feel they are eavesdropping on a real class (you know the kind - the adult education creative drama class that meets at the community center). The actors must not show us types, but really seeming like vaguely familiar, ordinary people. As instructor Marty, Bridget Connors is a bit uneven in accomplishing that task. At times, she seems to be acting like "that" type of woman: an ex-hippie, new-agey, mother earth type. Marty and husband James, played by John Shepard, seem content and settled, but during one of those simple games, a secret is revealed which results in removing a few bricks from the foundation of their marriage. Theresa, an underdeveloped character well played by Daina Michelle Griffith, is a 35-year-old woman on her own, a former aspiring New York actress. Theresa is bubbly, sometimes manically so, superficially self-confident, and a man-eater. We learn about her history, but not much else. Schultz (Daniel Krell) is a middle-aged recent divorcé, and he's struggling with that. That Theresa goes for him quickly is a great boost to his ego, but of course it doesn't last long, and then he seems to take a few steps backward. But by play's end, there's hope for him. Krell moves Schultz along his journey very nicely. Lauren Blumenfeld is a real stand-out as high schooler Lauren, often shrouded in a hoodie. She seems anti-social, but it's just that she only says something when she needs to, and then she just says it ("Are we ever going to do any real acting?"). Like a typical teenager, Lauren finds these adults odd and of course sees them much more clearly than they see themselves. Blumenfeld shows this to us in ways that earn hearty laughs. In the end, Lauren is still a teenager, a smart one, with better days ahead.

The set by David M. Barber is pretty much dictated by the script: lacquered wooden floor and high overhead lighting. A projection above the door tells us what week we're in. It is authentic, as are Barber's everyday-wear costumes. Lighting by Don Darnutzer dims to different levels, joined occasionally by original music by Zach Moore and Dustin E. Newman, to show the passage of a few minutes or a week, but could have been used to more clearly let us know when we were at the end of the play.

Director Jesse Berger has the pace just right, and the staging is nicely choreographed and perfectly accomplished by the cast.

Circle Mirror Transformation is a very well-written, truly ensemble play that really sneaks up on you, in a good way. And it's much more fun to watch the class than to attend one ourselves.

Circle Mirror Transformation at the O'Reilly Theater for Pittsburgh Public Theater through April 3. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit

Photo: Pittsburgh Public Theater

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