Annie Baker explores the difficulty of human interaction at Studio Theatre.
By Julie LaPorte
The lives of five Vermont locals cross and are changed forever during a six-week creative drama class. Funny, awkward and emotionally revealing, Circle Mirror Transformation was written by Annie Baker and is directed by David Muse. It is playing at Studio Theatre through October 17.
Leading the first adult creative drama class through acting games is Marty (Jennifer Mendenhall), who has had success with her creative drama class for children, but who seems in over her head with the adults who walk in the door with fully formed neuroses. James (Harry A. Winter) is Marty’s husband – boyish, friendly, happy-go-lucky – taking the class to support Marty, but who is also on a journey seeking self-awareness.
Teresa (Kathleen McElfresh), enthusiastic and eager, has just moved to town, fleeing the dog-eat-dog nature and hypocrisy of New York, not to mention a domineering, mentally abusive boyfriend. Schultz (Jeff Talbott) is recently divorced – vulnerable and hesitant – whose doomed infatuation with Teresa draws laughs of painful recognition. Sixteen-year-old Lauren (MacKenzie Meehan) is an aspiring actress/veterinarian – full of angst, withdrawn, uncomfortable in her own skin.
“It’s the most charming, intelligently written play I’ve encountered in a long time,” said Muse. “What’s really bold about Annie’s writing is that she wants the conversation between the characters to feel as excruciating as she thinks a lot of human conversation is. That we’re uncertain about what we want to say. That speaking is often a miserable thing to have to do. That we all want to connect with each other but are really bad at it though we try so hard.”
There is no intermission during this 1 hour 45 minutes production and the pace is incredibly quick, dozens of scenes fade in and out, small slices of time that heighten the tension and reveal honest attempts at emotional connection. Debra Booth created a set that acts as another player in the drama – though it is a silent observer to the action – the small community center with hardwood floors, a wall length mirror, and random paraphernalia like yoga mats, stools and cubby holes. This is where the games take place – the counting game, the gibberish game, explosion tag, picture frame – game after game that symbolize the connections and mis-connections that these people experience in real life.
“It’s also a play about how these experiences that seem passing and a little bit silly – like taking an acting class at the community center – can change us,” Muse said. “It’s also about the surprising ways, turns that life takes. And how seemingly insignificant things can actually be in many ways life changing.”
David Muse has recently experienced a turning point in life himself – long-time Artistic Director Joy Zinoman recently retired and handed control of Studio Theatre over to Muse. He describes his current status as being on a listening tour, getting to know the institution, the staff and the Board. And as he moves Studio forward his focus will be on two things – courting new works and international plays.
“It is true that Studio has not been a place that has worked on developing and premiering work by new writers,” Muse said. “Work by new writers happens here all the time…but they’re not the originating productions, they are second or third productions. I am in interesting in seeing what it means to open the door to new work. And I also do think that Studio has historically been – and I hope it will continue to be – a theatre in town where the most number of plays by international writers happen. We’re going to build on that tradition.”
For more information and to buy tickets to Circle Mirror Transformation, visit Studio Theatre.
Julie LaPorte is a freelance writer living outside Washington, D.C. For the past year she has served as a columnist for Washington Life Magazine – penning reviews for the Performing Arts and the Paint the Town columns. She also works as a political marketing copywriter for candidates in local, state and national campaigns as well as for Congressional franked mail.