Curious Theatre Company is going meta by offering Circle Mirror Transformation, a charming play by Annie Baker about a drama class offered in the community center of a small town. The play shares several short scenes from a six-week course, during which we meet the earthy, expression-focused instructor (Marty), her husband James, a people-pleasing former actress (Theresa), a man on the rebound from a recent divorce (Schultz) and a jaded teenager (Lauren). We watch the five get to know one another (and themselves) through a series of common acting and creative drama exercises.
Circle Mirror Puts Backstage Exercises in the Spotlight
HE SAID: On the surface, this might seem like a small show about the silliness of an acting class. 5 actors, one set, almost no props, all working to display a series of very short vignettes (31 scenes). I have to admit that I am not sure I got it right away, but having sat with it for days I can see now how much there was to take in. Each character is so complex and through the course of the play, as we discover more about their story we are allowed time to think back to things they said off-handedly and bring a whole new level to their life. And as much as is revealed, this play almost feels like a great Pinter play in that so much is not said out loud but merely expressed in the silence.
SHE SAID: I was expecting to really enjoy the show because of the premise. As someone who has taken several acting classes, and even used some of the exercises in classes that I’ve taught, I knew there was a lot of potential for character development and story telling. After all, at almost all levels of training, acting classes tend to become group therapy sessions at one point or another, so I knew there would be a lot for the characters to express. Even still, I was a little surprised that the entirety of the story-telling took place over the course of a series of snapshots from the 6 weeks of community acting class.
Baker’s Choppy Structure Makes for Compelling Storytelling
HE SAID: At the talkback with the cast after the show (a standard part of the Curious experience), a few patrons commented that they felt the frequent scene breaks brought on by the structure of the show, which consisted of 31 short vignettes, was off-putting while others weren’t bothered in the slightest. I have to admit that I was somewhere in between – there were several moments that were funny and moving throughout the piece, but I did take me time to get used to the rhythm of the piece.
SHE SAID: The amount of time that passed between scenes did take some getting used to — often we’d watch a 3-minute scene, only to jump 8 minutes ahead in time to the next 5-minute scene. What was odd about it was you got the feeling you were watching something happening almost in real time, but not quite. I actually thought it added to the awkward tone set by the entire story as the characters try to get their expectations met over the course of the class. And did I enjoy getting to know these characters! I’m pretty sure it’s a testament to the writing, direction and performance that I feel as though I met these five people last weekend, as opposed to having watched a play about them.
Truth of Performances Shine at Curious Theatre
HE SAID: I bet this is one of those shows that could die a painful death in the wrong hands, as the writing demands the delicate touch of masters to find the right balance in every element of the production. Luckily for us here in Denver, Curious put together a team capable of just that. The design elements were incredible, but no surprise there. The bulletin board outside the classroom door was a great detail that really expanded the world. But the performances across the board were so wonderful I really would have had an equally enjoyable time if they were performing on a completely empty stage.
SHE SAID: I agree that the performances were some of the best we’ve seen in the area. Everyone was a truthful, honest portrayal of the somewhat self-conscious person who wanted to participate in this class. The design elements enhanced the performances by providing a beautiful set that was so believable, I felt safe and secure when the door to the classroom closed, as though the fourth wall was as real as the other three. The lighting, costume and sound design also artistically helped us track the passing of each class and distinguish between intra-class and inter-class transitions.
Curious Theatre Presents Touching Story in Unique Style
THEY SAID: Circle Mirror Transformation might seem simple, but underneath the silliness and occasional awkwardness of the theatre games there lies a wealth of story that extends way beyond the power of theatrical expression. While the structure felt fragmented, preventing a deeper connection to some, we found that the space between scenes allowed us to reflect on previous actions and statements made by the characters leading to a continuous discovery of the complexities to each person. The set up of 31 vignettes requires a little more investment, but with performances and rich as these we didn’t find it extra work at all. If you go to theatre to see the truthful portrayal of realistic characters, look no further.