By Annie Baker
Directed by Dexter Bullard
At The Christiansen Theatre at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre
Slow pace and constant blackouts detract from Baker’s drama
It sure seems that playwright Annie Baker and director Dexter Bullard have out smarted themselves with their Chicago premiere of Circle Mirror Transformation. Baker talks about contemporary playwright’s obsession with using a fast pace and quick, quirky and witty speech by their characters. She may have a point but the opposite – a dreadfully slow pace with too much silence between words and/or scenes especially when there are many blackouts – can and does become tedious and destructive to the power of the play. That is the case here. Add that the show is one hour and fifty-five minutes without an intermission and you have a needless interest deterrent and endurance battle for the audience. Why? Baker’s play has potential to be wonderful so why make the experience dreary?
The work finds four students and a teacher partaking of an Adult Creative Drama class at a local New England community center. We find a flirty former actress, Theresa (Lori Myers); a distant 16-year old, Lauren (Rae Gray); a divorced carpenter, Schultz (Steve Key); an old hippie husband, James (Joseph D. Lauck); and the instructor, Marty (Carmen Roman) Jame’s wife. The group has little in common except that each desire to experience ‘creative drama’ through an adult acting class. Steve Key and Lori Myers were particularly excellent in this show.
The show is structured through six weeks of these acting classes that use acting exercises and acting games to allow each participant to become uninhibited thus allowing them to get out of themselves and into another character. The goal here is to internalize acting technique. The exercises use physical movement, word games, vocal cues, role playing, repetition and body/facial gestures to transform the participants from their personal fears and foibles toward confident expanded personalities. The games also help us find out about the life-changing events that shaped the lives of each.
With Circle Mirror Transformation, we witness how each character reveals their innermost secrets while struggling to overcome their inhibitions. I found the many exercises and games a tad too repetitious, yet they served the play well. Baker’s use of incomplete sentences and long spaces between words also help reveal hidden feelings and reservations from the characters added power to the work but eventually such devices slowed down the show thus deluding its overall effectiveness.
The revelatory scenes whereby each character revealed their innermost fears came from the games/exorcises in the class. If you have the patience and stamina to stick with this show- it’ll pay off with some funny, telling and poignant moments. Audiences will get a glimpse into basic acting games that most actor’s must endure on their way toward conquering their craft. We see how these exercises can effect an assortment of folks. It is too bad that the staging and pace dilutes the impact of this work. A quicker pace and fewer blackouts would greatly enhance Baker’s promising play.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 6. 2011
For full show information, check out the Circle Mirror Transformation page at Theatre In Chicago.
At Victory Gardens Christiansen Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Linclon Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-871-3000, www.victorygardens.org, tickets $20 -$50, Tuesday thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturday matinee at 4 pm, Sunday matinee at 2 pm, select Wednesday matinees at 2pm, running time is 1 hour, 55 minutes without intermission, through April 20, 2011