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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 4, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 44
Circle Mirror Transformation is theater for theater-lovers
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Circle Mirror Transformation is theater for theater-lovers

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Circle Mirror Transformation
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through November 20


'Theater exercises' are probably pretty familiar to anyone who has ever taken a theater class, but if you have never taken one, you might not understand what they are. So, the new play at Seattle Rep - Circle Mirror Transformation, based entirely on a theater class with theater exercises - might be too insider-ish for some.

Clearly, the opening-night crowd loved it, being composed of virtually all theater insiders. And if you have experienced theater classes, the jokes, the sweetness of the group of participants, and the way the story unfolds over great numbers of very short scenes is a subtle and interesting journey. The five actors comprising the teacher (Marty, played by Gretchen Krich) and students (Marty's husband, James, played by Peter A. Jacobs; Schultz, played by Michael Patten; Theresa, played by Elizabeth Raetz; and 16-year-old Lauren, played by Anastasia Higham) are uniformly lovely to watch, each in their specific character identity.

There are many quiet and subtle moments that translate beautifully in the smaller Leo K. Theater space. Andrea Allen directs the actors and surely brings each story to the surface.

Annie Baker's script is a unique way to tell these individual stories, but aspects of the gimmick cause some dragging and preciousness when too many exercises slow down the pacing of the stories without forwarding effect. A funny beginning - all the participants are lying on the floor and trying to count without doing so at the same time as anyone else - doesn't get explained for almost two-thirds of the script. The exercise is to bring awareness of each other to the surface. It depends on a kind of mystical connection created inside the classroom. But that doesn't translate when showing it to an audience unless the audience already knows the point of it.

Even so, each of the many short scenes do successfully make many tiny story points, allowing us to get more insight into the characters over the six weeks of class. Marty and James look like a great couple, but cracks appear as a beguiling student, Theresa, an actress who gives up New York, casts a tempting spell on the two male students. Raetz is absolutely believable as the adorable and quirky Theresa, both in an act-y way and in being physically appealing.

Krich also inhabits teacher Marty with an amalgamation of the all the theater teachers you've ever known - enthusiastic, yet making the students take it on faith that what they're doing is 'really acting.' We're left to guess about her failing relationship with James, though Jacobs' acting makes it very clear that something is missing, enough to allow for a fantasy-crush on Theresa. We understand that they feel badly about the rift, but apparently can do nothing about it.

Schultz is a newly divorced man looking for something different to do with himself, figuring out how to manage his new life. Patten excels at the subtle everyman throw-away lines, becoming the regular guy who knows little about theater - a feat from a fantastically talented actor.

Higham recently graduated both from Whitman College's theater department and from Seattle's Center School, a public school that includes arts in the curriculum. She does a great job as the shy, uncomfortable Lauren, who wants very much to act but isn't quite sure whether what they're doing in class is really going to get her anywhere near a stage. The only note she doesn't quite hit is at the very end, where she's supposed to be 10 years older.

Many parts of the play work very well: the confinement in this one rec room, the device of weeks going by for character change, even the device of dozens of short scenes. To help connect better with those who have never taken theater classes, very short expositions about what the exercises are supposed to accomplish might keep the rest of the audience engaged. However, some of the failings also focus on too many exercises, since once established as the device, watching them gets old pretty quickly. They're for participating in, not looking at.

For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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