BWW Review: CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION at Mile Square Theatre
In a small town Vermont community center an acting teacher Marty (Deborah Hedwall) leads four students through a six-week workshop. The art of the pause, truth and honesty, relationships, communication are slowly articulated through out the course of the intriguing evening. Annie Baker's Obie-award winning play "Circle Mirror Transformation" has been skillfully rendered anew at Mile Square Theater in a production directed by the company's Artistic Director Chris O'Connor.
"Are we going to do any real acting? Like from a play" pipes the youngest and most silent observer of the class, Lauren (Annette Hammond). We've taken in a variety of exercises designed to get the students to trust and communicate with one another. Everything from re-enacting life stories to precious moments from the past (be a bed, a baseball mitt, or the maple tree from my childhood backyard) to lying on the floor counting one by one without stepping over one another.
Baker blends acting class exercises with snippets of the character's lives. We learn bits of each person's life as they tell one another's stories. There's romance, yearning, revealing of secrets, and blank tense pauses...just like in real life. Staged like a chess match, the actors maneuver carefully around one another, parrying and jockeying just as the text languidly and tautly undulates revelation, humility, and humanity. Tension is slowly ratched and humor flows subtley thanks to the cast's masterful performances.
The cast is uniformly solid, each creating credible, true-to-life characters, imbued with a mostly dignified palpable sense of loss. Hedwall's tender Bohemian invests with irritatingly all-forgiving smiles and shrewd attentiveness.Matthew Lawler's face flushes, blushes, folds, and excites with each possibility as his just divorcee comes alive over the six-weeks. Hammond's Annette silently absorbs the underlying drama in the room, adding gravitas as the evening progresses, confidence too. Jon Krupp willingly takes his own wife's class while their marriage isn't as ideal as initially portrayed. His slow boil simmers realistically. Taylor Graves (Theresa) has escaped to be closer to her father and away from a failed relationship. She's peppy but narcissistic, shrewdly portraying her moth drawn to every brighter light. The pauses, the blaring hum and sudden floursecent lights underscore the rawness of detail each participant in the class sees. The designers create brilliant lighting - realistic and nuanced, especially in the final moments.
Baker, the cast O'Connor make no inflated claims for the salutary powers of drama therapy, nor does do they underestimate them, as is intimated in a stirring final bitter-sweet blurring of the boundaries between a studio exercise and real life ten years hence.
The production runs through July 1st. Tickets and performance times are available at milesquaretheatre.org