Monday, November 8, 2010
Theater review: Circle Mirror Transformation at WaterTower Theatre in Addison
Being an actress myself, I found the play and its execution fascinating, but I had to wonder if audience members who aren't in theatre would relate to it in the same way.
A brick wall, a bulletin board with various flyers ("LOST CAT," class schedules, "Roommate Needed"), two benches, an upright piano, an exercise ball, an easel with a large white paper tablet, and a wall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. This is the entire set of Circle Mirror Transformation (playing at WaterTower Theatre in Addison through November 21), and it's also the description of a room familiar to anyone who's taken a community center class, been on a church retreat, or been sentenced to a corporate team-building event.
Enter four acting students who then, according to the program, are assigned "harmless" theatre games by their teacher. Well, if you've ever found yourself at a party where someone had a funny story to tell, but instead of just telling it, suggested, "Hey, gang, how `bout everybody tells their most embarrassing story to the group now?," and then the evening suddenly turned morose, shocking, or downright scary when one of the most embarrassing moments told was (to put it mildly) inappropriate, then you know that there's no such thing as "harmless" games – theatrical or otherwise.
The play is a fascinating entry into the psyches of five very different, very well fleshed-out, and very three-dimensional characters. It's so probing, in fact, that my companion noted that it was just the opposite of most plays: Instead of just painting the characters with a superficial shorthand (Marty, the inexperienced acting teacher; James, her husband in mid-life crisis; Lauren, the introverted teenager; Theresa, the actress who failed to take a bite out of the Big Apple; and Schultz, a carpenter who thought that a six-week beginning acting workshop would be a fun way to get out of his routine), it bores through that and the next couple of layers almost immediately, to lay bare the raw center of these characters' souls.
I've never seen a play like this before; everything that I thought was being telegraphed to me about the ending turned out to be wrong. Set and Costume Designer Terry Martin wisely chose to keep the set plain vanilla and the costumes easily convertible during quick change blackouts where the class moved into its next week, but even if he hadn't, I would still have had a hard time tearing my attention away from the emotional metamorphoses the characters were experiencing in order to admire his handiwork. The mirrors were an especially nice touch – they often allowed me to see the faces of both characters in a scene straight on, simultaneously.
Bladder Alert: This is a one hour and forty-five minute play with no intermission. And this is one of my slight quibbles with this show: It's too long when it doesn't have to be. An intermission would interrupt the story arcs needlessly, I agree, and no dialogue or scenes need to be cut, but the Dramatic Pauses, which I'm sure Director Amy Anders Corcoran added in order to make the characters seem like regular people taking a beginning acting class, need to lessen after Week One of the class; this would have made the characters' interactions more realistic as the six-week time period progressed, and they came to know each other better, and would have shortened the show to a more manageable hour and a half.
My other nitpick is that, since the actors are not mic'ed, there are times, especially when emotions are running very deep, that they become almost too quiet to hear clearly. This is especially true of Bill Jenkins, who not only gets quieter, but whose voice drops to a deeper pitch when he's digging down in his more poignant scenes, causing the audience to lose some of his lines entirely.
Kayla Carlyle's Lauren went through the greatest transformation, but I won't detail the impressiveness of it here, as its revelation was my favorite part of the show, so I don't want to spoil it for you.
Being an actress myself, I found the play and its execution fascinating, but I had to wonder if audience members who aren't in theatre would relate to it in the same way. I think I can safely say that it will reach anyone who's had to do any sort of task that they found ridiculous and boring in order to achieve a goal that they wanted, from drilling Hanon's exercises on the piano every day to filling out lame reports in triplicate at work. And we can all relate to Lauren's question for her teacher about a quarter of the way into the play: "Are we ever going to do any REAL acting?"
We meet these five people in the middle of their lives, and we leave them (except for two) just a few weeks later. We don't learn their entire histories, and they don't get all their issues resolved and tied up with pretty little bows by the end of the time we're with them. We just view a sliver of a slice of their lives, but we've been so touched by our short experience with them that they and their potential futures stay on our minds for a long time.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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