Circle Mirror Transformation is not satire. The five characters, who share in a six week drama class in a Vermont community centre basement, may start out seeming like caricatures. But by the end of Annie Baker’s Obie Award winning play, the lives of these individuals become remarkably genuine. Not only that, the stories they tell and the secrets they reveal make them out to be exceptionally fragile and imperfect creatures.
The characters Marty (Jill Harland), her husband, James (Mark Whelan), Theresa (Pip Dwyer), Schultz (David Frisch), and Lauren (Laura Jabalee) all come together over six weeks to take part in a drama program run by Marty. The story unfolds over a series of quick vignettes, none longer than five minutes. These scenes, separated by darkness while the actors reassemble in different positions onstage, showcase different classic drama exercises and breaktime conversations.
At the beginning, it’s amusing and almost cringeworthy. These characters don’t know anything about each other, but are subjected by Marty to comical movement exercises, vocal warm-ups, and extremely bad one-word group storytelling. Marty seeks to break down the walls put up by each character through different bonding techniques, not all of which have the intended effect of pulling the group closer together. Little by little, pieces of these characters’ backgrounds invade the drama class, and their delicate, broken pasts endanger the camaraderie that has been building amongst the group.
The characters in the play are subtle and extremely complex. They are perfectly juxtaposed with the often simplistic and restrictive exercises and games Marty has them take part in during class. Forcing them to carry out a conversation with only one phrase or word and freezing them in place to act as inanimate objects, like beds and trees, are just a couple of examples depicting the rigidity of Marty’s class. This limiting environment has the opposite effect of highlighting the traits unique to each character, further bringing them to life, even within such a closed off setting.
Circle Mirror Transformation truly shows a transformation of both the characters and the drama class from the beginning to the end of the story. What starts as an awkward group of distrusting people in what seems like a parody of a drama class, ends up mutating into an in-depth look at very real and incredibly complex characters. There is drama here that is definitely not part of the drama class.
Presented by Play Practice Collective and directed by Heather Braaten, Circle Mirror Transformation runs until October 18th at the Storefront Theatre. Tickets are $20 and are available at www.securesaseat.com