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'Circle Mirror Transformation' at Theatre Horizon

2 minute read
Learning from (and about) each other. Photo by Matthew J Photography
Learning from (and about) each other. Photo by Matthew J Photography

Circle Mirror Transformation reminds me of Seinfeld, the famous sitcom about nothing. Annie Baker's play, similarly, has no drama, no climax, and its conflicts are trivial. Yet it is quite touching.

In an artsy small Vermont town, a collection of strangers sign up for an adult acting class taught at the local community center. The leader puts her students through a regimen of theater games, intended to break down personal barriers and encourage spontaneity and creativity.

Awkwardly, numbers are shouted out while lying on the floor; lists of actions have to be memorized as each person adds an item; class members must pretend to be one of their classmates. The artificiality of the games sets up a nice contrast with the naturalness of the characters’ real lives. Their feelings unfold with disarming subtlety.

Because it is set in a small town, you would expect the class members to know one another. But it was important to make them strangers who slowly learn about one another, so the playwright specified that one has recently divorced and moved into a condo complex, one has just arrived from New York, and one is a teenager who can’t decide if she wants to be an actress or a veterinarian. Thus we have people trying to discover themselves and simultaneously discovering other people.

The games are so trivial, and so repetitive, that one character asks “When are we going to be doing any real acting?” Some audience members may get impatient at the show’s slow pace, too, but that’s a deliberate choice by the playwright. The actors are instructed to take long pauses, and the blackouts between scenes are intentionally extended. The idea, clearly, is to make everything seem like real life.

After the six-week course concludes, there’s no catharsis, no great revelation, no neat ending. Life goes on.

Matthew Decker has directed with amazing sensitivity. There is considerable calculation in the script, and the director and cast deserve immense credit for piercing that and reaching through to the soul of the characters.

Nancy Boykin plays Marty, the touchy-feely workshop leader. Bob Weick is Marty’s husband James, a former lady-killer who is settling into middle age. David Bardeen plays Schultz, a self-doubting recent divorcé. He is infatuated with Theresa, played by Kim Carson, a flirt who prefers older men. Emilie Krause is the troubled teenage girl. All of them deliver appealing and understated characterizations.

This play has been called a comedy, and some scenes evoked belly laughs from part of the audience. Yet others sat through its two hours without laughing, although touched by its sadness. I consider it an asset for a play to succeed in those opposite ways.

For another review, by Ilene Raymond Rush, click here.

What, When, Where

Circle Mirror Transformation. By Annie Baker. Matthew Decker directed. Through March 16, 2014 at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb St., Norristown. 610-283-2230 or


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