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Circle Mirrror Transformation

a Atlanta Premiere
by Annie Baker

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 4038

SHOWING : April 27, 2011 - May 29, 2011



Set in a "creative" acting class, a group of aspiring actors, strangers at the beginning, attempt to create characters while revealing a great deal about their own personal makeup and their lives. Described as "absorbing, unblinking and sharply funny," it's a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process, foibles and all. An off-Broadway hit. Recommended for age 16 and up. With Shelly McCook, David DeVries, Steve Hudson, Amber Chaney, and Rachel DeJulio.

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Six Acting Lessons in Six Weeks
by Dedalus
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
It’s an irony of the art of acting that, in the quest to create moments of “reality,” exercises, lessons, and training “games” of astounding artifice are used to hone our skills. We have to pretend in order to pursue that ever-elusive “magic moment” of emotional truth. In Annie Baker’s new comedy, “Circle Mirror Transformation,” we are plunged into a small-town acting class, and the trip is, oddly enough, more satisfying than you may think.

To be sure, I’ve participated in some of these exercises, and, on the whole, I’ve sometimes found them aggravatingly pretentious, and sometimes surprisingly effective. The pretention comes in the unspoken assumption that the art of theatre is ONLY emotion, that words are irrelevant and therefore disposable. It also ignores such (IMHO) critical aspects of acting as back-story, character memory, character “voice” (what does this character’s word choice and structure say about him/her?) and foreshadowing.

On the other hand, many of these exercises go right to the root of “segmenting” your awareness – what am I doing in this place at this time and why am I saying these particular words? What in my immediate environment MUST I ignore to get to the reality of the situation?

Because this play is set in a small town (“Shirley Vermont”), there is also a certain smug attitude towards the main character, towards her tunnel-vision focus on “Be Here Now” exercises. (Favorite line –“Will we ever be doing any REAL acting?” “This IS real acting.”). On the other hand, there’s also a blatant respect for the methods themselves, culminating in a distinctly effective ending in which two characters play themselves “ten years from now.” This gives the whole thing a certain schizophrenic quality, a quality compounded by the structure – the audience is asked to witness what can only be truly understood by direct experience.

Still, I liked the moments of recognition throughout, the slow reveals of characters through all the various “games,” the humor (and irony) inherent in failing to get beneath the surface of new relationships when the only interactions are supposedly “real revelations of character.” I liked how this cast showed a wide range of experience and response to the lessons (and to each other).

Shelly McCook is Marty, the teacher, and she brings to the role all her usual quirky humor, this time carrying a solid undercurrent of seriousness – she is fully committed to her craft (at least her idea of the craft) and never condescends to the material. David de Vries is her husband, James, only half-committed to the class (and, apparently, the marriage). Steven L. Hudson is sadly humorous as Schultz, a newly-divorced man “on the prowl,” aggravatingly jerky and appealingly vulnerable all at once (and what is acting if not the resolution of inherent contradictory impulses?). Amber Chaney is Theresa, a recent transplant from Manhattan, running away from a failed relationship and a failed acting career. And Rachel DeJulio is Lauren, a teenager who hasn’t lost that youthful drive to act we all remember. Together they harmonize beautifully, whether in a varied responses to exercises, whether in just-missed relationship connection , they are individually discordant, together a beautiful ensemble.

And that’s the real reason to see this play. I’m not sure how non-industry folk will regard all the “in-jokes” and references, or how they will react to the long Pinteresque (that is, fraught with sub-text) pauses, or how they will judge the vaguely-explained exercises. But they will definitely react to this group of people, to the sadness at the root of their lives that transcends to great joy when they get together each week to act and play.

The struggle of the actor is to make real what is essentially artificial. To make spontaneous outbursts of song, perfectly rhymed dialogue, intricately structured farce, outrageously imaginative fantasy, brilliantly contrived coincidence ALL seem the most realistic and natural thing in the world. IMHO, that is the true art and the true greatness of acting. That this skill is honed by the most preposterously artificial and surface-silly exercises is the take-home “truth” of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” and, personal nitpicking aside, that is what makes this play well worth the trip.

Now, I’ll go first. Whenever it’s your turn, shout out your number … ONE!

-- Brad Rudy (



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