Cast 13 Oct 2009: Read Birney (Schultz), Deirdre O'Connell (Marty)
Cast 13 Oct 2009: Deirdre O'Connell (Marty), Heidi Schreck (Theresa), Tracee Chimo (Lauren), Reed Birney (Schultz)
Cast 13 Oct 2009: Deirdre O'Connell (Marty), Tracee Chimo (Lauren), Peter Friedman (James)
Review by Tulis McCall
13 Oct 2009
I like to think that you don’t have to be an actor to love this play. So, why don’t you go ahead and see if I’m right?
A collection of townspeople come together because of an Ad on the bulletin board at the Community Center in Shirley Vermont. Shirley, don’t bother looking it up because it’s not there, is somewhere near Rte 7. This puts it almost anywhere in Vermont because Rte 7 is a main north-south artery for the whole state.
The workshop – we never get the exact name – is six weeks long, and we get a snippet of each week’s class. Five people are in the workshop – one of whom runs it, Marty (Deidre O’Connell), and one of whom is her husband, James (Peter Friedman). The other three, Schultz (Reed Birney), Theresa (Heidi Schreck) and Lauren (Tracee Chimo) are there because they don’t really have anywhere else to go, and this sounds like something that might be more interesting than watching the snow melt and being alone in their lives.
Which is not to say these people are boring in any way. They aren’t. They are like us, and that’s one of the many ways in which this play works. Annie Baker and this excellent cast makes these people look like us and be fascinating at the same time. Yipes.
Each week begins with a counting exercise in which everyone lies on the floor and together they try to count to 10, each person speaking at random, without overlapping voices. Looks like it should be easy, but it’s not – and these actors do some very skillful sleight of hand to pull this off. Following the count down are exercises designed to add to an actors’ toolbox: listening, improvisation, story telling, movement. Outside of formal class we watch them share slivers of themselves with one another. We watch these folks go through their paces as classmates, and we watch them brush up against one another as people. It is difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends, and this seems to be at the heart of Baker’s work.
The character revelations here, are oblique. In some cases this could drive you batty, but here this approach works big time. We only see these people in the workshop room, and we only see a portion of each week’s session. What Baker chooses to show us is as important as what she chooses to leave out. At one point Lauren asks Marty “Are we going to be doing any real acting?” Marty’s response: “We are acting.”
Baker has created a play in which the circle of life literally becomes a circle of people, and within that circle there are smaller, intimate circles that do everything from explode to implode. These characters stay on the ride, right to the very end. Lauren and Schultz do an improvisational exercise where they meet 10 years from now.
LAUREN: Hey. Um. This is kind of a weird—but do you ever wonder how many times your life is gonna end?
SCHULTZ:Uh…I’m not sure I know what you
LAUREN: Like how many people you’re…like how many times your life is gonna totally change and then, like, start all over again? And you’ll feel like what happened before wasn’t real and what’s happening now is actually…(she trails off)
SCHULTZ: Uh…I don’t know. I guess I feel like my life is pretty real. LAUREN:…Yeah.
Me? I’m with Lauren. Life is, after all, a series of moments. We arrive after it’s started and leave before it ends. And the in-between part – that 80 or so years we hope we have – that is a kaleidoscope. Events tumble ass over teakettle without pause. Who gets to say which events are beginnings and which are endings?
While you are pondering that, remember that some events – like Circle Mirror Transformation are flat out fabulous. Period.
ANITA GATES for NEW YORK TIMES says, "Absorbing, unblinking and sharply funny."
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ for NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says, "Thoughtful new play"
ELISABETH VINCENTELLI for NEW YORK POST says, "Tone and pace ultimately prove too gentle...But the finely- tuned ensemble cast transcends the material.
LINDA WINER for NEWSDAY says, "Bold and engrossing storytelling."
JENNIFER FARRAR for ASSOCIATED PRESS says, "Humorous and heartbreaking."
DAVID ROONEY for VARIETY says, "A beguiling little play."