A review by my Narrative Breakdown cohost James Monohan.
CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION
By Annie Baker
Directed by Chris O’Connor
Through July 2nd
Mile Square Theatre, Hoboken, NJ
Before The Flick (2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) and John cemented playwright Annie Baker’s status as one of Off-Broadway’s most mesmerizing playwrights, Circle Mirror Transformation earned Baker and frequent director Sam Gold an equivalent amount of breathless praise, including Obie Awards for New American Play, Ensemble, and Director. Those who missed CMT’s original storied run at Playwright Horizons, or any other rendition of this five-character dramedy, should run to catch the thoroughly charming production at the Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken before it closes on July 2nd.
The play follows a six-week acting class in small-town Vermont, led by Marty (Obie winner Deborah Headwall), a warm and spiritual type who leads her students through exercises that resemble awkward therapy sessions more than anything you would find at Juilliard. Marty’s students include her own troubled husband James (Jon Krupp); grouchy but ambitious high schooler Lauren (Annette Hammond); Theresa (Taylor Graves), a thirtysomething, free-spirited woman on the rebound from a breakup; and Schultz (Matthew Lawler), a recently divorced carpenter who becomes besotted with Theresa.
One hopes that Baker never actually observed the artistically and ethically questionable tactics employed by this community center drama teacher, exercises that involve students having their most painful and darkest laundry hung out in front of near-strangers. But as one audience member observed, most of these games can be found in your average improv class. Whether contrived or not, the interactions that these lessons spawn are increasingly hilarious, the laughs coming from truthful, character-based moments. By the end, you may be surprised by just how much you’ve come to care about this motley group.
Director Chris O’Connor has a sensitive ear and navigates Baker’s rhythms with aplomb. And the vignettes are tied together brilliantly by the pitch-perfect music of sound designer Matt Bittner. This production is part of Mile Square Theatre’s first full season in its new building. Only a twelve-minute bus ride from midtown, the cozy intimacy of the space feels more appropriate for Baker’s Green Mountain state setting than anything in Manhattan.