Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 14, 2023

REVIEW: Chester Theatre Company, “Circle Mirror Transformation”

Town Hall Theatre, Chester, MA
through August 20, 2023
by C. L. Blacke

Photo by Andrew Greto
Closing out its 34th season, Chester Theatre Company once again pays homage to the
dramatic arts with its production of Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

As one of the playwright’s four plays set in the fictional town of Shirley, VT, “Circle Mirror” world-premiered Off-Broadway in 2009 and won the Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2010.

It studies, in microcosm, a six-week community acting class portrayed through a series of vignettes. Perfectly awkward silences, stilted sentences, and lost trains of thought dominate this play as four very different and very dysfunctional individuals, led by an equally damaged instructor, participate in games, trust activities, and dramatic exercises meant to develop acting skills. What they can’t know is that they will learn more about themselves through this class and each other than they would even after years of psychotherapy.

The entirety of the play takes place in the dance studio of a community center. Smartly designed by Juliana von Haubrich, the windowless room leaves little place for insecurities to hide. With an exit door on one wall and a full-length mirror opposite, each participant must make a choice—escape before their darkest secrets are exposed or face the mirror and begin their transformation.

The ensemble cast of five includes Marty (played by Corinna May), the self-proclaimed spiritual healer/acting teacher, her hippie husband James (Alex Draper), a lonely, divorced carpenter named Schultz (Joel Ripka), a flirty, former actress named Theresa (Tara Franklin), and a high school student-cum aspiring actress-cum hopeful veterinarian Lauren (Hero Marguerite). Each character is vital to the story (and to each other’s), and no actor is upstaged.

Working in perfect synchronicity, the cast must endure uncomfortable interactions (think: waiting to be noticed by someone absorbed in their cell phone) while expressing a range of emotions. They must also feed off of each other’s energy (when impersonating a baseball glove and stuffed snake) and rely solely on subtext (while having a conversation using only the words “goulash” and “ak-mak”).

That each moment is engaging and feels true to life is a testament to the excellent direction of Daniel Kramer. No stranger to Baker’s plays (he directed the 2018 CTC production of “The Aliens”), Kramer’s experience is evident. This production is fun and funny (provoking laughter in all the right places), subtle and well-paced (coming it at a mere 95-minutes), and a gentle reminder that despite their emotional baggage, everyone deserves attention and love.