PROVIDENCE, RI – Pawtucket's Gamm Theatre opens the new theatrical season with Annie Baker's "Circle Mirror Transformation," a play that has won accolades around the county.
"Circle Mirror Transformation" is a one-act play concerning a group of small town Vermont community theater hopefuls taking an acting class . . . okay, okay, I can almost see your eyes glazing over. But please don't touch that dial.
For this one hour, fifty-minute intermissionless work is filled with crescendo and downfall; it hovers over the lives of its five characters, shooting lightning bolts at times, covering all with grey at others. It is illuminating, sometimes hilariously funny, sometimes breathtakingly sad, and sometimes a little slow, even a little boring. In other words this piece by a 20-something young woman is a lot like life, a struggle all too often, a joy often enough, but always with a connection to our times, our needs, our wants. It's a terrific way to open a season.
Playwright Baker places her piece in the fictional town of Shirley, Vt., a spot she sees as having 14,000 folks, a community college, and an annual highlight celebration the Gourd Festival. At the community center we look in five folks. There's Theresa, a woman seeking . . . well, she's not quite sure. There's Schultz, a lonely middle-aged guy, reeling from a divorce. Lauren is an ever-snotty teenager, with an attitude. Then there's James who was married to Marty, the woman who's teaching "acting."
If you've ever been anywhere near an acting class you can imagine what playwright Baker (who says she's a terrible actor herself) has up her sleeve. There's Theresa battering James with "Goolash," "goolash, " "gooooo-Lash." He replies with something like "Ack-Mac," "Ack-mac." It's wonderful satire but Baker is after more. "Circle Mirror Transformation," an acting exercise, of course, moves fitfully, but piercingly into the lives of the five. We watch them segue from clarity to desperation. The writing here is so good, so real in its discomfort, its needs, its humor, that you get a picture of not just these five lives but many, many others. Maybe even your own.
Rachel Walshe directs with focused clarity, with an unforced drive that equals the plays. The cast is super. Karen Carpenter and Amanda Ruggiero, make the female hopefuls open, funny and nutty seekers. Jim O'Brien and Normand Beauregard show the men as more closed but no less fraught. It's been a long time since we've seen Beauregard on stage in a major role around here and his return is most welcome. As the ever-cheery, ever so-local acting teacher, Wendy Overly shines with small town gloss.
What really works here, though, is playwright Baker's refusal to pump up her play. It moves in fits and starts, it is the anthesis of today fast- paced theater and entirely better for that. Baker has said that she knows she has not yet written a great play. But with "Circle Mirror Transformation" she has certainly written a very good one.
Want to Go?
"Circle Mirror Transformation" continues at the Gamm Theatre through October 9th.
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