Thursday November 23rd 2017

“Circle Mirror Transformation”

  Anyone who has taken what might be called a “creative acting class” will tell you that Annie Baker’s play, “Circle Mirror Transformation” now in the  Studio ( aka Richard Christiansen Theatre) at Victory Gardens, pretty much sums it up. These classes seldom really get to doing scenes or even scripts of any kind. They are “creative” and they are designed to teach aspiring actors to learn to listen and retain information; to trust the other acors they are working withand to have faith that each will do what is expected of them. In this production  directed by Dexter Bullard, we meet 5 characters- the teacher of this class Marty ( a strong performance by Carmen Roman), her husband, a sort of ex-hippie ( deftly handled by Joe Lauck), a carpenter, just coming off a lousy divorce, in hpes of meeting women ( Steve Key handles this role with just the right emotion and touch, we do feel for him) , a former actress from New York ( a dynamic character played to perfection by Lori Myers) and a high school student who wants to be an actress ( Rae Gray who has matured into a solid actress, but needs to work on her projection), all  involved in a 6 week course in a community course in acting.

As the play begins we are in the class with each of our cast members on the floor in near darkness, counting! There are many of these scenes between others as this is how they learn to have trust in other actors. Many of  the scenes in this one hour fifty minute ( no intermission) play deal with each of the members of the class and their teacher and why they are here, what they are looking for in life and almost reminds one of those snapshots we are given in ” A Chorus Line”, but less complete. I thought that  Baker might have done some paring down on the entire play reducing the number of “counting scenes” and perhaps a little quicker pace. I understand the idea of building the story as many audience members will probably have never taken a class anything like this, but it can be real without repeating some of the same exercises over and over.

The romance that almost blossoms between the flirty actress who broke up with her domineering boyfriend and came  to this little town in Vermont and the weak, shy carpenter- the romance between the teacher and her husband and what is taking place in their lives and the teenage girl who appears to be running away from life as it is at home. There are many little stories with lots of words that are “unsaid” but rather assumed due to the slow and steady pace of the scenes flowing one day at a time over the six weeks. I like the idea of pacing it it, but 90 minutes would have been more to the liking of many of the audience members tonight.  A writer must understand that if you lose your audience in the early moments and scenes, they will be “lost” for the rest of the play and with no intermission ( which I truly feel is the way to tell this story), they have no time to get caught up on it by their friends.

The story is one of beautiful ideas and thoughts and the ending is rather dramatic for all the characters.There are many funny moments in this story, in particular, and in fact the one that probably got the largest laugh is when Lauren asks the question ( about half-way through the course,”Are we ever going to learn to act”?- they never really do a script, but they do learn about people, relationships, trust and their own inner selves, which can only make them better people and of course better actors. They say acting is believing and this they learn.

The studio, a much more intimate setting than the main stage at Victory Gardens, doesn’t allow for a massive set, but Grant Sabin’s workroom whit a mirrored wall and the props which he did as well truly give you the feeling of a room that works for this type of class. The detail of the other side of the entry door ( hall and bathrooms )is very real. Jesse Klug’s lighting has just the right moods for the darker scenes and Tif Bullard’s costumes work and give us a little insight into some of what makes our characters who they are. These are ordinary people, nothing special or different than perhaps your next door neighbor. They all have a personal reason for taking this course and a the play and story evolves, we see these reasons altered; by time and events. I believe the title’s true meaning is that we do change from what we were to what we are day by day and that if we open our eyes and our ears, the transformation will come. This is my thought. See the show for yourself and get back to me on your feelings.                                                                                                                                                                                               

“Circle Mirror Transformation” will continue at Victory Gardens “Studio” through April 20th with performances as follows:

Tuesday through Friday evenings at 7:30 p.m.,Saturday at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.- On Wednesday,March 23rd and April 6th, instead of 7:30 performances, there will be matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $20-$50 and are available at the box office ( the theater is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue ( just north of Fullerton with easy access by public transportation), by phone at 773-871-3000, online at www.victorygardens.org or by e-mail at tickets@victorygardens.org

Student, senior  and rush tickets are offered ( subject to availability) check with the box office or website for more info.

$11 valet parking is available and discount parking is available at  Children’s Memorial Hospital parking lot just one block south on Lincoln Ave.

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