Circle Mirror Transformation

by Christopher Verleger
Contributor
Friday Sep 16, 2011
Karen Carpenter (Theresa), Jim O’Brien (James, seated on ball), Wendy Overly (Marty, in background on floor), Normand Beauregard (Schultz, on floor), Amanda Ruggiero (Lauren, background standing)
Karen Carpenter (Theresa), Jim O’Brien (James, seated on ball), Wendy Overly (Marty, in background on floor), Normand Beauregard (Schultz, on floor), Amanda Ruggiero (Lauren, background standing)  (Source:Peter Goldberg)

Five lives are changed forever within the four walls of a community center studio classroom in Gamm Theatre’s serene production of playwright Annie Baker’s startlingly original work, Circle Mirror Transformation.

Two men, two women, and a young girl from Shirley, Vermont, gather once a week for an acting class, where they participate in seemingly inane exercises of movement, speech and self-reflection. The opening scene finds them all scattered, laying flat on the floor, attempting to count to 10 as a group without speaking over one another.

Marty (Wendy Overly), the earthy, free-spirited class leader, encourages her four students to be "in the moment" and share their past experiences -- however enlightening or painful -- with each other.

Schultz (Norman Beauregard) is a recently divorced furniture maker seeking any alternative to a night at home alone. Theresa (Karen Carpenter) is new to town after having fled a failed relationship in New York City. James (Jim O’Brien), Marty’s husband, is a professor preoccupied by his strained relationship with his daughter. Lauren (Amanda Ruggiero), the only member of the group aspiring to be an actor, is your typical, withdrawn, irritated 16-year-old who thinks her time spent in the studio is wasted -- yet she never misses a class.

"Circle Mirror Transformation" at Gamm is an honest, albeit unsettling, lesson in life for its characters and the audience, all of whom are reminded how badly the truth can hurt.

Each weekly meeting provides additional detail, yet as we learn more about these five individuals, what happens off-stage, between sessions, is the real story. Theresa and Schultz share a brief courtship that worsens the already tense atmosphere in class. Marty and James carry on with each other in a manner so contrived that it arouses suspicion. And when Lauren finally speaks up, her disposition is all the more justified.

While the play starts out rather slow, it evolves beautifully. Those audience members who have never taken an introductory acting class may, at first, suspect they are watching a group therapy or meditation session. Marty intentionally strives to provide a comfortable place for her students to bare their souls and to learn how to better present themselves.

Rachel Walshe’s direction is stellar, and the actors are perfectly cast. Overly is brilliant as the resident mother figure who wears her nurturing heart on her sleeve and has the watery eyes to show for it. O’Brien is just as impressive with his restless, humorous portrayal of James.

Carpenter’s performance as the self righteous Theresa is arguably her best yet, and Ruggiero drips with angst and attitude as Lauren. Beauregard, who I hope to see again this season, shines as Schultz, conveying adolescent excitement and genuine anguish as his character tackles affection and rejection.

"Circle Mirror Transformation" at Gamm is an honest, albeit unsettling, lesson in life for its characters and the audience, all of whom are reminded how badly the truth can hurt.

Circle Mirror Transformation continues through October 9 at The Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket, RI. For more information, visit The Gamm Theatre’s website.

Chris Verleger is an avid reader, aspiring novelist and self-professed theater geek from Providence. Email cwverleger1971@yahoo.com.

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