Circle Mirror Transformation follows the lives of five people taking a community drama class together. Each character comes to the class in the midst of a personal transition; whether finding a path after being newly divorced, attempting to forge a path with an estranged loved one, dealing with consequences of dysfunctional family, or trying to leave an unhealthy/all-consuming relationship behind. The play was written by Annie Baker who tells her story in very short, sometimes abstract, snippets of time…presumably to show how it only takes a moment to change the angle of your trajectory.
This particular production of Circle Mirror Transformation, directed by Jessica McFarland, was staged in the round (meaning the audience sits in a circle around the stage…how appropriate!). There was minimal set and props used and, mixed with the artsy vibe of the Historic Masonic Temple, the show had a college/all-about-the-art feel that definitely appeals to my artistic preferences. This style of theatre can be particularly difficult to stage but, though some mid-monolog crosses seemed more functional than purposeful, I never felt left out of the important moments for each character.
The subtle reactions of each character are what communicates the meat of this story, so pay attention! Leslie Larkins, in particular, has a heart-breaking moment during a secret reveal that gives critical insight to her character; she handled the moment with just the right amount of desperation and dread. Richelle Arguello (Lauren) and Ron Elliot (James) were well cast in their roles as a discontented husband and a teen searching for guidance. While the importance of character’s goals sometimes got lost, the effervescent charm of Diamond Magee (Theresa) kept many scenes bouncing along. Her charismatic nature contrasted nicely to a flash of reality when another actor in the class, played by Noah Shankool (Schultz), steps a bit too far.
Due to the nature of the short scenes, the transitions between each scene tended to be too long. The story lost some of its forward motion as we waited in the darkness for actors to make long crosses to exit the room. The full exits are unnecessary, as the audience is entirely with the actors in the belief that their existence is only in the circular playing space.
The costumes, “wrangled” by Logan LaBrake, were character appropriate and added some fun color to the scenes. Having the actors change costume did help to denote the passage of time, however, it almost didn’t seem necessary in a show where the audience has already agreed to so much use of imagination. The Lighting Design, by Nick Suchyta, is a good portion of the set. There was a rarely used mirror and a frequently used exercise ball which also helped define the space.
There is a lot of value to Vanishing Elephant’s production of Circle Mirror Transformation. I encourage people to come out and support this company as they, like the characters in this play, launch on their own journey of creating transformative art. The show plays August 23rd-26th. You can get tickets online at: https://hmtbc.org or you may purchase them at the door.