“A particularly endearing performance comes from Sayers, a sixteen-year-old actress who, one assumes, has a fine career ahead of her. Hers is an ingratiating part, and of the bunch she is the character we witness in the greatest transformation.” -James M. Keller
A group of unlikely strangers are drawn together to attend a six-week drama class, set in a community center in small-town Vermont” is how the website of Adobe Rose Theatre describes the company’s current production,Circle Mirror Transformation, by the American playwright Annie Baker. The play earned plaudits when it ran Off-Broadway in 2009, and Baker went on to win the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for an ensuing play. And yet, one worried that a theater piece about an acting class might get caught up in navel-gazing. The opening scene, in fact, has the five characters lying in a circle onstage calling out ascending numbers; any of them may say the next number at any time, and the object is for each to sense the group’s energy so that their utterances don’t overlap. This exercise returns several times in the course of the play’s 31 short scenes, and you wouldn’t imagine that it would qualify as compelling spectator sport. But it does, in its unassuming way, mirroring the vicissitudes of the five participants and the intersection of their marriages, romances, contentments, frustrations, and aspirations.
The action unrolls through six of the class’s weekly meetings, with illuminated script captions above the bare-bones stage — “Week One,” “Week Two,” and so on — reminding viewers of where they are in the chronology. The action sometimes seems to proceed in rather arbitrary fashion, reflecting the extemporized nature of the actors’ exercises, which include quite a few apart from the “counting game.” In the early weeks, the teacher and her four charges (two men, two women of different ages) are getting their bearings, but by Weeks Four and Five the experience has entered the territory of drama-class-as-therapy, with various revelations (explicit or implied) sending some of the characters into tailspins. The narrative enters its weakest stretches here, particularly in the earnest “sharing exercises” of Week Five and the attendant revelation of predictable victimhood. By the end of the class, all the participants end up in a different place from where they started, and a clever epilogue, set ten years in the future, reveals that the class had been a useful point of departure for five life journeys.
Wendy Chapin directs a carefully molded performance that appropriately conveys a spirit of quintessence, a sense that nothing extraneous needs to be imposed on what Baker has already put forth. In a director’s note in the program, she writes of the specific lengths of silences that pepper the play, a topic Baker has often been asked to address in interviews. These precisely timed fissures may seem more salient on the page than on the stage. In any case, such pauses seemed neither uncomfortably long nor unreasonably frequent in the performance I saw on March 26.
The five accomplished actors form a nicely attuned ensemble: Lynn Goodwin as the teacher and, as the students, Todd Anderson, Kent Kirkpatrick, Maureen Joyce McKenna, and Marika Sayers. As a group, they emit various degrees of hope, doubt, randiness, and exhaustion. Goodwin holds up her leadership position with élan, an artistic soul to the core, certain in her direction until suddenly she isn’t. A particularly endearing performance comes from Sayers, a sixteen-year-old actress who, one assumes, has a fine career ahead of her. Hers is an ingratiating part, and of the bunch she is the character we witness in the greatest transformation. The costumes, by Jasminka Jesic, are perfectly on target, but in the case of Sayers they do much to support her gentle transition from caterpillar to butterfly. – James M. Keller
Pasatiempo The New Mexican’s Weekly Magazine