Stick five characters in a room with nothing to do but talk to each other, and problems will inevitably arise. This simple storytelling philosophy propels the narrative of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation in an oblique and unpredictable way, and director Lauren Rosenfield PO ’11 and the 5C Bottom Line Theatre ably brought this play to life last Saturday.
Circle Mirror Transformation takes place over the course of five weeks in a Vermont dance studio. Marty, played by Claudia Crook PO ’14, leads a sort of therapeutic acting workshop, in which participate her husband James (John Maidman PO ’11), the divorced carpenter Schultz (Ian Gallogly PO ’13), the former New York actress Theresa (Katie Lyman PZ ’12), and the initially unenthusiastic teenager Lauren (Rosenfield). The play consists of the characters' acting exercises and the moments between the classes. The formula is simple enough—the same exercises recur with different meaning as the play progresses—but undeniably compelling.
In the director’s note, Rosenfield wrote that “the challenge of the play… is to trust in that in-between: that long silence, that awkward side glance, that moment before you know what you’re going to say.” That in-between is the heart of Circle Mirror Transformation, and Rosenfield and company appropriately emphasized the importance of those sometimes endearing, sometimes unbearable, and always charged silences. In one scene, a few minutes after Schultz tries to ask Theresa out on a date, Theresa asks Schultz if he would like to grab coffee sometime; Schultz is so elated that he forgets to say yes. It’s a wonderful moment that grips the audience with tension and strangely works as a sharply effective litmus test for one’s investment in the characters. But beyond the loaded silences, Circle Mirror Transformation is wonderfully lumpy with different characters’ out-of-sync emotional realizations, a quality that is sometimes delightful and sometimes heartbreaking—as in the final dialogue between Lauren and Schultz.
Circle Mirror Transformation, with its simple conceit and sparse set design, is above all an actor’s showcase, and each performer stepped up to the challenge. Crook’s laid back and deeply emotional Marty interacted nicely with Maidman’s James, a good man constantly battling his suppressed contemptuous aggression. Gallogly’s Schultz was a big, sweet, wounded man-child, which lent his interactions with Theresa—whom Lyman played with flighty appeal—the right note of sadness and humor. Finally, Rosenfield portrayed Lauren with a sullen shyness that developed nicely into warmhearted acceptance as the play progressed; this contrasted rather painfully and effectively with some of the other characters’ less positive arcs.
Circle Mirror Transformation is a quiet, reflective play with the potential to emit electrifying energy when brought on stage—and this is exactly what happened in Rosenfield’s remarkable production last Saturday night.