Friday, February 12, 2016

Circle Mirror Transformation

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 11, 2016 
from left: Jesse Morrow, Tim Shute, Meghan Goodman, Scott Douglas, and Chelsea Williams. Photo by Austin Lang.

And now for something completely and delightfully different — Circle Mirror Transformation at Olympia Little Theatre, written by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Annie Baker and winner of the 2010 Obie Award for Best New American Play .
It might seem silly and disjointed at first, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded. Some people didn’t stick with it opening night. I noticed that more than a couple of couples left at intermission. Perhaps it was too weird for them. Perhaps it seemed meaningless. Too bad for those who walked out. They missed out on a terrific show ably pulled together by first-time director Hannah Eklund and an outstanding ensemble cast.
Cast photo by Austin C. Lang
Marty (Meghan Goodman) runs an acting class for adults. It’s a small class, four students only, one of whom is Marty’s husband, James (Tim Shute). It seems he doesn’t really want to be there, but is taking part in the class in order to support his wife. The other class members are Theresa (Chelsea Williams), a professional actor who doesn’t really need the class; Schultz (Scott Douglas), a recently divorced man who is uncomfortable being in the class; and Lauren (Jesse Morrow), a student with hopes of becoming an actor.
The play begins with a series of seemingly unconnected scenes that parody the kinds of often bizarre exercises actors are known for engaging in — attempting to communicate without words, making animal noises, lying on the floor and shouting out numbers in an attempt to count to 10 without any two or more saying the same number and nobody knowing when someone else is going to call out a number (try it, you’ll see how hard it is), becoming various inanimate objects, and introducing each other and telling their personal stories each in the guise of one of the other people in the class.
Time changes, from week one to week two and so forth, are cleverly introduced by projected videos of the actors, one at a time, in extreme close-up with lots of changes of expression and with background music. I do not know if the actors attempted to go through their medley of facial expressions with the music playing or if the music was added later, but they appeared to be delightfully synchronized—most enjoyably Shute frowning and laughing to the tune of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”
The different scenes and exercises seem random and are often hilarious, but become increasingly revealing of intimate details, fears and desires. In the end, each of the class members has changed, and the audience knows them better. But not everything is revealed. As the actors tell their personal stories, the audience is challenged to figure out what stories pertain to which of the actors. Clues abound, but not necessarily the answers.
Kudos to cast and crew for a job well done.
Circle Mirror Transformation runs approximately two-and-one-half hours including intermission. It is an intelligent play for sophisticated adults.
The set and lighting are deceptively simple and effective. (No one is credited in the program for set design, but Tom Sanders is listed as set construction, and Sam Arsenault is credited for props—primarily a big ball, a hula hoop and a cleverly designed combination bench and storage cabinet.) The projected videos are captivating (Eklund did them and the sound design; and as director she has to be credited for the complex and excellent blocking). And since I've listed half the crew I should list the rest of the unsung heroes behind this production, all of whom deserve praise: Stage Manager Austin C. Lang; Lighting design Lang and Vanessa Postil; light and sound booth George Dougherty, who is seldom acknowledged for the critical job of running lights and sound for Theater Artists Olympia, Olympia Little Theatre, and Olympia Family Theatre; and Producer Allison Gerst, longtime costume designer for OLT.
Circle Mirror Transformation, Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 21, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $11-$15, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tim. Not said often enough. I appreciate your talent and commitment, Colonel.

Captain M.