Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” is the penultimate play of Michael Driscoll’s last season as Alliance Rep Artistic Director. Michael passed very suddenly earlier this year and his genius for selecting the right plays for the right time was nonpareil. In this play, six weeks of an acting class go by and nothing, and everything, happens. The how, when, and why are exactly the stuff of which life is made.
Marty (Laurie MacMillan) has finally convinced the local community center where she works in her artista town to let her create an acting class. The town is just small enough for people to know one another by sight, if not personally, and just large enough for people to recognize they live in a town, and not a village. James (Glen Post), Schulz (Jason Kruk), Theresa (Jackie Jacobi), and Lauren (Brooke Stephenson) are her four students, who come from a variety of ages and levels of experience. In other words, exactly the type of folks you’d expect to find in a beginning acting class. As Marty guides the group through the course, the exercises end up being much more revealing than anyone expects, and therein lays the human drama.
Alliance Rep produces at Mondo Summit, à la “La Bohème,” but they are in a basement rather than a garret, and it makes the intimate space into a crucible where watching a play has a film-like quality. We are so close to the cast that every nuanced gesture that they make or phrase that they utter is captured by the audience. This means the real-life actors are under that much more pressure to create characters that ring true.
John A. C. Kennedy directs this piece with a light but firm hand. Part of the joy of the piece is the freshness of the characters these artists have created. It is easy to understand, he stated in the talk-back after the performance that I saw, how a different cast would potentially yield a very different show. As a veteran actor and director, he knows well of that he speaks.
Spinning out this yarn, the ensemble makes very discrete and disparate characters. Marty, we learn, is married to James. Schulz, a carpenter and furniture maker, is a newly-minted divorced man. Theresa is a New York City actor looking for a fresh start and high school junior Lauren wants to be a dancer and an actor, as she stands on the nascent edge of what she will be. Each of Kennedy’s actors has created a beautifully-formed flesh and blood person so different from their true persona, yet like Everyman they represent facets of us all.
Baker teases out details of the relationships among each of the students with each of the others and continually asks the question in different voices and different ways “is it enough to love.” Each character asks and is asked that question for different types of love.
How well does each actor listen to one another? The Counting Game is a way, for actors, of assessing how connected people are and these people weave a glistening web with pearls of angst among the gossamer threads. More like a DNA strand than an orb weaver’s work, there are a few moments that will take your breath away. And isn’t that just like life? Observing the cast’s transformation, you will likely undergo one of your own.
Make your reservations NOW! This play only runs until June 15 and this show is must-see. Make an evening of it and get your tickets here at www.alliancerep.org