October 10, 2009
Sam Gold (director)
Who knows what to expect, with a mystical title like Circle Mirror Transformation? But on the other hand, there's the realistic set—a generic rehearsal room, a mirror along one wall—doesn't inspire flights of imagination. Somewhere between the title's fancy and the set's mundanity is the show itself: an quirky bit of meta-theater.
Circle tidily takes place within a six-week community center acting class. The set-up offers room for the gentle mockery of acting exercises, especially when performed by a set of four over-earnest adults (the lone teen sulks, “Are we gonna do any 'real' acting?”). It also doubles as a clever device to open up the five characters. Though it initially sketches in broad strokes, the silly exercises slowly fill in the characters' vulnerabilities and aspirations. What's more, the script manages to suggest that there's a larger story to these befuddled adults and their sardonic voyeur, but that we're only getting the in-room snippets of it.
Annie Baker's script benefits from several extremely talented Off-B'way mainstays like Reed Birney (who plays a vulnerable middle-aged divorcé with gusto). But the standout is newcomer Tracee Chimo as that solo teen. Though Chimo initially plays the clown, goggling at the ludicrous behavior of the adults, she slowly emerges from her shell to display her new confidence and self-understanding.
With its simple scenario, there are short stretches of Circle that frankly are a little dull, a fact that Sam Gold's direction can't overcome. And non-theater types may resent the knowing chuckles that the in-crowd delivers every few minutes. Circle doesn't bowl you over with pyrotechnics or boggle you with plot turns. It's a cameo, yet with its small but satisfying catharsis, it's quite lovely.
Circle Mirror Transformation plays at Playwrights Horizons (416 42nd Street, betw. Ninth & Tenth Ave.), closing on November 1. Tickets?
Photo credit: Joan Marcus