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Recommended-fine ensemble
Engrossing...fine production
Highly Recommended

fantastic play - a must-see

more to come...

Reviewed by Albert Williams

This 2009 work by Annie Baker, whose The Flick won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for drama, chronicles the progress of a six-week "adult creative drama" workshop in the fictional town of Shirley, Vermont. The earnest teacher, Marty (Lynda Shadrake), leads her pupils through rounds of theater games, trust exercises, and improvisation—which in Marty's less-than-sure hands prove to be less effective as acting techniques than as emotional outlets for her students. They include shy 16-year-old Lauren (Talia Payomo), who would rather be working on scenes than improv; Schultz (Michael Sherwin), a carpenter, and former actress Theresa (Emily Tate), both recovering from painful breakups with other partners and attracted to each other with predictably unsatisfying results; and Marty's middle-aged ex-hippie husband, James (Adam Bitterman). Baker's precise, pause-punctuated use of fragmented speech recalls the early work of David Mamet and Harold Pinter. Under Scott Weinstein's direction, the fine ensemble convey their characters' shifting relationship dynamics with well-crafted body language and vocal inflections.


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Reviewed by August Lysy
A Tender Glimpse Into Broken Lives.

As their press release reads, “tiny wars of epic proportions are waged” in Redtwist Theatre’s current production of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation. Ms. Baker’s slice-of-life drama gives us a voyeuristic glimpse into an assorted group of students taking an introductory acting class; aside from showing that indeed not everyone is called to be an actor (or an acting teacher), the play shows how the vulnerability, trust, and connection demanded of acting preparation can blur the boundaries between performance and real life, to the end that stirred emotions may lead to actions and discoveries with defining consequences.

Six weeks, four strangers, and one instructor make up the introductory acting class now taking place in Shirley, Vermont. Theresa (Emily Tate) is a new arrival to the small town, having recently broken up with her long-term boyfriend before leaving New York City where she was an amateur actress. Schultz (Michael Sherwin) is a divorcee in the midst of what one might call a “mid-life crisis” who still wears his ring on his finger—as well as his heart on his sleeve. Lauren (Talia Payomo) is a 16-year-old high school student with a reserved and skeptical disposition who has a troubled home life and a dream to become an actress (or maybe a veterinarian, who knows).

James (Adam Bitterman) is the husband to the instructor, Marty (Lynda Shadrake); currently in his second marriage, the ex-hippie struggles with a (off-stage) estranged relationship with his daughter—who, as it happens, shares a strong relationship with Marty, a not-so-ex-hippie whose effusive, positive vibes (and wild and colorful attire) slowly work on her students to open them to interconnection.

For various reasons, these people have decided to take this class, and over the course of six weeks (depicted in short, episodic scenes) their broken lives come together to heal and grow—then to quickly fall apart as new relationships and old marriages end.

Circle Mirror Transformation is a quiet and subtle study of broken lives—not unlike a condensed time-lapse of the imperceptible migration of landmasses across the oceans. It is not the raucous dramas of the 20th century with defined and high-stakes conflicts. The stakes and conflicts here are personal and hidden, like an iceberg below an ocean surface (if I may stretch the geographical analogy just once more).

That is not to say the play is boring, but, just as the eye that conceived it was keen, so too must the sensibilities of its audience be. Despite the characters being of various ages, this is very much a contemporary, Millennial play, from its acting-class premise (whose studio is vividly realized by designer Elyse Balogh), to its more inferred characterizations, to its awkward moments and pedestrian conflicts.

And, from what I’ve seen and read, it’s the best of its kind. In defiance of its slow pacing, Redtwist’s production is curiously engrossing—and much (if not all) of that is due to Director Weinstein’s cast’s ability to pick up on Ms. Baker’s subtleties and embody them internally: indeed, I felt the characters the most in their silences, only sometimes losing them in their over-gesticulated dialogue.

Emily Tate’s Theresa is a brilliantly complex portrait of a 30-something woman whose words and actions belie her own lack of self-understanding. Michael Sherwin’s Schultz is wonderfully understated and delightfully comedic in his desperate, middle-aged bachelor turned spurned, adolescent lover. Adam Bitterman lives his character James best in his silences and mute reactions, but altogether his pathos comes through in his painful and pathetic end. Lynda Shadrake as Marty is colorful and impassioned, yet finds a sincerity in her portrayal to ground a character that otherwise risks stereotype. And Talia Payomo as the taciturn Lauren captures the awkward eyes and mannerisms of her character, only to then surprise us with a fuller range of her acting ability in her last-scene transformation.

Redtwist’s production of Circle Mirror Transformation is an engrossing and sometimes uncomfortable glimpse into the quiet lives of awkward desperation. Timely in the best of ways, it shows us the private selves that peek through the cracks of our public images. For those with sensibility and appreciation for the understated, this is a fine production of a tender and gently sobering drama.


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picpostHighly Recommended

Examining Conflict’s Subtleties
Reviewed by Jacob Davis

Baker’s Pace for a Very Particular Taste
Annie Baker’s work is very much love-it or hate-it. I count myself among those who love it, due to her ability to perfectly capture the natural rhythms and subtext of real conversations and replicate them on the page, providing room for actors to find the absurdity, humor, unpleasantness, and mortifying awkwardness of mundane, quiet moments. She understands that these moments usually contribute more to peoples’ relationships than the high-intensity battles other playwrights focus on, and it is extremely rare for her characters to explicate their rich inner lives. But for the same reason, a lot of people find her plays meandering and pointless. (Baker is also an adaptor of Chekhov.) Circle Mirror Transformation, now in a production at Redtwist directed by Scott Weinstein, adheres faithfully to Baker’s style to the delight of people who chuckle in recognition at the characters’ foibles and are fascinated by Baker’s ability to show peoples’ cores through such subtle means as a stammer or a pause.

A Redtwist on the Vermont Cycle
Circle Mirror Transformation is one of several plays Baker set in the fictional Shirley, Vermont, which is a super-liberal college town in a sedate bubble. There, Marty (Lynda Shadrake), a middle-aged hippie, teaches a drama class at a community center. Her students are her husband, James (Adam Bitterman), a previously-married leftie professor, Theresa (Emily Tate), who recently quit acting in New York to become a massage therapist, Lauren (Talia Payomo), a sixteen-year-old who hopes to get a leg-up in her school drama club, and Schultz (Michael Sherwin), a lonely, recently-divorced man who is near the end of his youth.

To Lauren’s chagrin, Marty’s style of teaching to focus exclusively on games and exercises that are meant to help actors become more aware of their bodies and to cultivate their instincts for shaping their emotional responses. Lacking scene work or discussions of technique, it’s probably not the kind of class the characters imagined, though they all stick with it. The games, including the titular “Circle, Mirror, Transformation,” in which actors are taught to mimic each other’s energy levels, are even goofier to watch than they are to play.

The Startling Power of Improv
However, these exercises, when done seriously and not just as a means to make the other players laugh, force the participants to reveal quite a lot of their hidden shame and confusion. Theresa and Schultz, the two characters who were aware that they had inner turmoil before signing up, are initially drawn to each other, but the souring of their relationship early on makes the entire class deeply uncomfortable for the remaining weeks they are stuck together. At one point, James is called upon to act out what he imagines Theresa’s controlling ex-boyfriend was like. Being put in the role of a bad guy makes the scene as difficult for him as it is for her, as he is already feeling defensive about one of his own familial relationships and Marty’s role in it. It quickly becomes apparent that all the characters have a lot more emotional baggage to channel into their improv than they thought they did.

Director Scott Weinstein often displays a knack for managing the delicate timing of ensemble interactions. This time is no exception, as he has an ideal ensemble of actors. Although the way in which the characters wound each other is frequently amusing due to their cluelessness and the bizarre artificiality of their lessons, all five are quite lovable in their deeply flawed ways. Marty doesn’t dominate the others in attitude or in stage-time and is regularly caught off-guard by the minor crises she contributes to, but her supportiveness and optimism are crucial to why the characters are willing to be as vulnerable as they are.

The Necessity of Subtext for Capturing Life
Though most people are probably somewhat familiar with the kinds of lessons Marty teaches, actors are obviously the most likely to recognize the kinds of interactions at work here. Watching how exposed the characters are even under a benevolent teacher, it is frightening to think of how easily a cruel person could have exploited them.

Baker’s play can be thought of as a tribute to the work actors do, not when they are enjoying the attention of a room, but when they are taxing themselves in rehearsal spaces such as the set designed by Elyse Balogh on experiments that may not even pan out. Because Baker is able to capture dialogue so accurately, her play is a fascinating look into a world that is usually hidden from us. But it’s also an insight into how much drama is often bubbling below the surface of an ordinary, outwardly unremarkable life.


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splashA Gorgeous Slice of Small Town Life
Reviewed by Jessie Bond

Redtwist Theatre presents Circle Mirror Transformation, written by Annie Baker and directed by Scott Weinstein. Set in an adult creative drama class in a small town in Vermont, the play tells the story of five very different people who, thrown together through the intimate interactions of the class, form connections and pull apart in quiet but life-altering ways. Baker’s play is a work of genius, and the folks at Redtwist bring it to life with elegance and nuance.

At the heart of the class is Marty, a long-time community center administrator and instructor who has finally achieved her dream of teaching a creative drama class for adults. Enrolled in the class are her husband James, middle-aged recent divorcé Schultz, high school student Lauren, and Theresa, an actor who became disenchanted with the New York stage and settled down in the small town in hopes of making a difference in people’s lives there. As the class and the story progress, fleeting moments of romance, friendship, tension, and more spark between the participants as they share more and more of themselves through the exercises.

Annie Baker’s style of storytelling is hyper-realistic. For example, the title Circle Mirror Transformation comes from the name of a theatre game that is played in real time onstage, in which the participants lie with their eyes closed in the dark and must count to ten as a group without anyone speaking simultaneously. The game is slow and quiet, but within it lie infinite layers of meaning as each subsequent iteration embodies the changing mood and relationships of the characters involved. Annie Baker makes symphonies out of silences, poetry out of the pedestrian. Her text is subtle, rich, and layered, yet simple.

The actors in this production deliver solid performances. Emily Tate in particular is compelling as Theresa; although she reads as much younger than her character’s stated age of 35, Tate has both vivacity and vulnerability onstage, which make her a delight to watch. Talia Payomo captures the spirit of a sweet but outwardly disgruntled teenage girl with skill. The ensemble overall succeeds at embodying the subtext and subtlety of Baker’s script.

Set design by Elyse Balogh is simple, creating the environment of a dance studio/workout room with only a few basic elements. Costume design by Kotryna Hilko features some delightful elements, including an ACLU T-shirt on James, a number of multicolored, hippie-esque pieces on Marty and, a personal favorite, fun socks on Lauren, including a pair featuring taco cats (which should be a staple of any wardrobe). The screen printing on Lauren’s T-shirts, however, leaves much to be desired. Lighting design by Daniel Friedman is clean and appropriately subtle, and sound design by Karli Blalock displays the passage of time while also functioning as a suitable transition.

Circle Mirror Transformation is a fantastic play, and the folks at Redtwist Theatre have done a good job bringing Baker’s script to life. This play is a must-see for fans of the Pulitzer prize winner’s work.


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