REVIEW: Generic’s Circle Mirror Transformation a Polished Diamond
By Montague Gammon III
As finely honed and focused a set of performances, and as tightly meshed an acting ensemble as one could wish for, are only part of what makes Generic Theater’s season-ending production of Circle Mirror Transformation a thoroughly satisfying, exemplary piece of high quality theater.
Annie Baker’s Obie award winning script – the NY premiere won another Obie for Ensemble Performance – is a wonderfully sensitive, gently exquisite examination of the ways people interact. (The New York Times and New Yorker Magazine both picked it as one of the top ten plays of 2010.)
The play is composed (as cleanly and carefully as chamber music) of excerpts from a 6 week acting class at a community center in a small Vermont town.
Subtle character development and finely woven personal interactions play out through acting exercises and theater games, and a few brief conversations outside class time.
Marty, the center director who leads the class, is a flawed acting teacher. She fails to maintain control of the class. She allows external events, and the students’ and her own emotions, to divert and distract its progress. She’s easily put off by conflict. She lacks flexibility in her teaching, and because of that, misses at least one important chance to connect with her youngest student.
The presence in the class of her husband, James, suggests that this is the first time she has taught it.
A young woman named Theresa who did not quite make it as an actress in New York, Schultz, a recently divorced carpenter and woodworker, and Lauren, a high school student, complete the quartet, or quintet as it eventually becomes.
James and Marty could be anywhere from their early 40′s to somewhere in their 50s, and Theresa is probably just a bit shy of 30, but ages are unimportant. Though quite specifically delineated and detailed, each of these individuals can also be seen as somewhat familiar, like someone one has sometime, somewhere known.
At the same time, Baker and this cast have transcended almost all notions of characterization and moved into an apparently effortless and truly seamless creation of very real, and again, very individualized, personalities.
The warp and woof of their emotions produces a rich, dynamic tapestry that, in the final scene, becomes a quietly cathartic and rather sweet, or bitter-sweet, totally satisfying resolution.
Elizabeth Dickerson plays Marty, with Joel King as James. Sarah Hoover is cast as Theresa, Matthew Hutchinson as Schultz, and Constantina Pantas as Lauren. All are uniformly excellent, individually and as a tightly knit ensemble.
Director Garney Johnson has simply done a superb job with this production, which is essentially flawless.
The simple set by Sky Curtis, and his lighting design, work as perfectly as the acting, directing and script all deserve. Ashley Wrye’s wardrobe designs are (similarly) unobtrusive and ideal. Projections used between scenes neither add much of importance, nor detract at all, from the rest of the play.
There’s a mirror in the title and at one end of the playing area. There’s a shining diamond on the stage.
Circle Mirror Transformation
by Annie Baker
Through June 30
Generic Theater downunder Chrysler Hall
215 St. Pauls Blvd, Norfolk