Sunday, March 24, 2013
Circle Mirror Transformation: At the Stardust Theater
Circle Mirror Transformation is awkwardly hilarious. That's my first and most prevalent thought throughout the show... the awkward interaction between the characters, long moments of uncomfortable silence, and the general feeling of discomfort when people simply don't seem able to communicate. The story revolves around a community acting class focused on the "touchy-feely" exercises on improvisation, self-revelatory monologues, and other similar activities designed to improve awareness and communication. The six week course is shown through a series of vignettes as the characters become caught up in the exercises and their personal relationships with one another.
The instructor is "Marty" (Judie Rogers Swartz), whose work has been focused on children's' classes but is finally able to bring her love of theater to adults with this new program. Constantly cheerful and optimistic, Marty attempts to convey that the participants are participating in important exercises in abstract theater. She is most heavily challenged by the groups youngest member, Lauren (Hannah Maurine Schmidt), whose attitude prevents her from seeing the purpose in many of the exercises being taught. Swartz brings several layers to the character of Marty and her cheerfulness is often pulled back to reveal a deep hurt, frustration, and even hope as events transpire.
Shane Dallmann is Marty's husband, James. Described as an "aging hippie", James is coerced into attending the class and doesn't seem to understand what the exercises are for. At first seeming like a gentle father-figure, James' history is revealed early in the play and we see the antagonistic nature of that history play out throughout the six week course. He is estranged from his daughter, struggling with his wife's constantly positive attitude, and struggling with his own failures to commit in on a professional or emotional level with the world around him for fear of becoming "like his father".
Theresa is a former actress who left her life and boyfriend in New York to find a quieter life in Vermont. Of all the participants, Theresa seems to fully embrace the abstract exercises and constantly seeks to "perform" at every opportunity. Tatum Tollner brings a lot of humor and a certain degree of "siren"-like to quality to the part as she seems to lure the attention of the groups' men.
The group is rounded by "Schultz", a recently divorced man reaching out for personal contact with the world around him. He is probably the most vulnerable member of the group, and Matthew T. Pavellas yanks back many rules on personal interaction to great comedic effect throughout the show. Shy, uncomfortable, and unaware of his own social missteps, Schultz was the character I found most easy to identify with and largely became the character I most liked.
"Are we going to be doing any real acting?" The petulant arm crossing and non-involvement from Lauren is probably the most important aspect of the show, a young girl who find herself watching and learning from the people around her. She often sits in a manner that seems so familiar, those awkward teenage years where people try to disappear into the background. She's almost always present throughout the show, watching and observing the characters and how they interact with one another. As the weeks go by, she becomes more involved and takes many of the lessons to heart. Hannah Maurine Schmidt was incredibly good with great body language to the events around her.
The shows awkward pacing is flat out brilliant for getting the most laughs from the audience, reveling in the uncomfortable silences between the characters and their body language. Director Renee Infelise should be given a huge round of applause for those large moments of silence. The sparse setting, with a mirror along one wall and a large rubber ball that moves throughout the show allows the characters to play with wide empty spaces and effectively build and take apart those invisible walls everyone constructs between themselves. Whether you've taken part in similar exercises before or not (and I have not, honestly) you will find familiar moments between the characters and the humor of communication.
Go see the show, which is currently playing at the Stardust Theater.