CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION, the award-winning play by Annie Baker, is named after one of the best known theatre games. Anyone who’s ever taken an acting class has probably done it. Set in the dance studio of a community center in a small town in Vermont, the play covers six sessions of a class in creative dramatics. The five characters’ relationships gradually grow and change throughout the process. At first the play seems slight and the characters stereo-typical – the sulky teenager, the show-off dancer, the insecure divorcee, etc. However as the play progresses we begin to see their individuality and are drawn into their lives.
Robin Fisher has designed an authentic-looking studio, complete with a bulletin board and a large blue ball that functions as a seat for the group leader. Her costumes are very good and vary with clever quick-change pieces. I admired Marty’s draped and hooded striped sweater and Lauren’s Act II matching socks and mitts. Lauren also sports interesting hair decorations.
Jock Munro’s lighting is just fine and I especially like the music by Marc Desormeaux. He uses an interesting combination of instruments that is very effective, particularly the staccato guitar contrasted with the sustained cello.
This is one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve seen in a while. Sarah McVie as Theresa displays amazing physical flexibility. She’s also an expert with her snazzy hula hoop and proves to be more than a simple flirt. As James, John Koensgen gradually reveals a character much more multi-level than he initially appears to be. Mary Ellis is wonderful as the group leader and James’s wife. She displays great warmth and sensitivity. I’m not sure how she does it, but she appears to grow younger and more attractive throughout Act II.
Catherine Rainville is excellent as Lauren. Despite the fact that in Act I she’s given little to do but sulk, she displays perhaps the most important tool of an actor – the ability to listen. Her response to Marty’s story is both subtle and revealing. She’s also terrific in the final scene with Schultz.
Speaking of Schultz, Andy Massingham gives a wonderfully subtle performance, investing the character with a complexity not apparent in the script. He delivers a line like, “I’m not angry,” with a world of hidden meanings. His ghoulish collapse during one of the games produced from me a true guffaw – rare in the theatre.
Lise Ann Johnson has done a masterful job of directing and staging this quirky play that could easily have slipped into satire in the early scenes. Thanks to Miss Johnson and her fine cast it never takes that turn. The final scene between Schultz and Lauren that makes a subtle ten-year transition is just about perfect.
This is a play with both gentle humor and belly laughs that draws the audience in until we discover we really care about these people. To quote the director, “CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION is about the comedy and drama of ordinary life.” It provides a very satisfying evening in the theatre.
On a scale of one to five the Great Canadian Theatre Company’s production of CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION gets five solar panels. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.