Boston, MA-born playwright Annie Baker’s episodic 2009 Off-Broadway backstage dramedy, Circle Mirror Transformation, now playing at Raleigh Ensemble Players, takes its name from an acting-class exercise. So, Triangle theater insiders will probably enjoy it more than those of us who’ve never looked hopefully at our grandparents’ barn and screamed, “Hey, let’s put on a show!”
Unfortunately, the characters of Circle Mirror Transformation are just the usual suspects: a bewildered and angry soon-to-be-ex-husband trying to regain his confidence with women, the sexy gal on the rebound from a romance turned toxic, the surly teenaged girl who wants to be a star, the outwardly cheerful acting-class teacher smiling through her tears, and her genial husband taking the class to try to heal the growing fissure between himself and his second wife.
REP artistic director C. Glen Matthews attempts to work his justly celebrated magic on Circle Mirror Transformation, but this lifeless show cannot be resuscitated. No amount of theatrical hocuspocus can bring these stereotypical characters to life or punch up the predictable plotlines that mix and match characters in entirely foreseeable ways.
There are no pleasant surprises here for REP patrons, and the “growth” that the characters experience during this acting class is entirely in the mind of the beholder.
Page Purgar really sinks her teeth into the juicy sexpot role of Rebound Rita — er, Theresa — and after a sloooow start, Brian Yandle is, for a few sporadic moments, a pretty good foil as Schultz, a rejected husband wrestling with his hair-trigger temper.
Jillian Holmquist also has her moments as Marty, the acting teacher whose smiling public face conceals private heartaches and doubts about her deteriorating marriage; and a miscast John Honeycutt never quite clicks as Marty’s personable husband James, who is getting restless in this unfulfilling marriage.
Ros Schwartz, on the other hand, starts stiff and surly as the aspiring teen actress Lauren, who’s been bitten by the acting bug and is looking for a fast track to wealth and fame, Broadway and/or Hollywood style. Sadly, she finishes as the same touch-me-not teen, now all grown up. So, obviously the circle-mirror-transformation exercise of the title and the other acting-class games didn’t work for her, just like Circle Mirror Transformation won’t work for many viewers. One can only wonder what the OBIE Award voters were thinking when they named this script Best New American Play of 2010.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 22nd Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 2 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/raleigh-ensemble-players-circle-mirror-transformation-explores-our-inner-demons/Content?oid=2842973. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 16th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/02/circle-mirror-transformation-by-annie-baker-is-a-delightful-2010-obie-award-winning-comedy/.)
Raleigh Ensemble Players present CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION at 8 p.m. March 2 and 3 and 7 p.m. March 4 in Suite 202, 213 Fayetteville St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students and educators, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $10 Student Rush Tickets (5 minutes before curtain).
BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9607, email@example.com, or http://www.realtheatre.org/box_office.html.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 8 p.m. March 2nd performance.
The Play: http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4189 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://newdramatists.org/annie-baker/circle-mirror-transformation (New Dramatists) and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Playwright: http://newdramatists.org/annie-baker (New Dramatists), http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/annie_baker (American Theatre Wing), http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsB/baker-annie.html (Doollee.com), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Baker (Wikipedia).
R. Jimenez-Hedesa: http://www.rjhfineart.com/ (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.