Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Small Pleasures abound in Circle Mirror Transformation at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Michael Patten, Anastasia Higham, Peter A. Jacobs, Elizabeth Raetz and Gretchen Krich
The press information on Circle Mirror Transformation, currently running in the cozy Leo K. Theatre at Seattle Rep, describes it as "an indie play," a phrase I have only heard used for movies in the past. Yet somehow it fits. Playwright Annie Baker's comedy/drama about a community college creative drama class is small scale, quirky and obviously able to be produced economically, just like an indie movie. This young playwright has talent, and has written a show in which people overlap and interrupt others' lines (and sometimes their own). It is a play in fact remarkable for its lack of theatricality and normalcy, and that automatically makes it a refreshing change of pace. Andrea Allen has skillfully directed her sturdy cast of five, and the production ends up being a triumph of small pleasures, watching the ensemble work together.

The (very) small class is presided over by a woman, perhaps a failed actress herself, named Marty, her husband James, a free-spirited young woman named Theresa who ill-advisedly has a dalliance with oddball classmate Schultz, and high school girl Lauren who seems to be more mature and posses more common sense than any of her classmates. The class consists of Marty taking her charges and herself through some reasonably dreary theatre games, and one failing of the script is that we don't quite see why any of the adult students are participating. Lauren, on the other hand, actually asks Marty about halfway through their sessions, "Are we going to do any real acting?" During the course of the class James wanders into a dalliance, which causes he and Marty to separate, while Schultz works through his disappointment in not being able to sustain a personal relationship. The class ends with a beautifully written scene where Schultz and Lauren do an improv as their later day selves meeting and describing their life paths since the class. The play itself would have benefitted from more such scenes.

Gretchen Krich does an excellent job of portraying a not very inspiring teacher, and builds up a good head of steam when she and James confront his infidelity. Peter A. Jacobs scores as James, painting him as a man who wants permanent relationships, but wanders into transitory ones instead. Elizabeth Raetz as Theresa does well with the show's sketchiest character. But the stars of the evening are Michael Patten, excelling as the downtrodden, moody Schultz, and Anastasia Higham, who gives a beguiling and totally unaffected performance as Lauren, a girl who is at the crossroads of deciding her life path.

Scenic designer Matthew Smucker makes his one-set community college classroom so utterly real that you'd think he hijacked out of an actual school, and Christine Meyers's costumes have that distinctly off-the-rack look required by the story.

Circle Mirror Transformation will likely end up a footnote in Baker's career as a playwright. But I'd be watching for young Ms. Higham's next appearance. She's the real thing.

Circle Mirror Transformation runs through November 20 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center; For more information call 206-443-2222 or go to

Photo: Chris Bennion

- David Edward Hughes

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