By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Theater as a tool for personal catharsis also is the theme of Circle Mirror Transformation, a sliver-thin play elevated by deeply subtle shifts in emotion by the five actors in the production running at Addison's WaterTower Theatre. Written by Annie Baker, directed by Amy Anders Corcoran, it's a dramedy about a small-town creative drama workshop at a Vermont community center. Over six weeks, the teacher leads four students through various acting class exercises, those take-a-deep-breath and nonsense-word repetitions meant to build confidence among the shy. Through the subtext of interactions among the group, we see relationships forming and disintegrating. The students never do much acting; mostly they're reacting as, one by one, they have to stand and deliver monologues based on what they learn about each other.
Bashful furniture-maker Schultz (Ted Wold) takes a shine to pretty massage therapist Theresa (Lynn Blackburn). She's a former actress, fleeing from New York City and a busted romance she's not quite over. Sullen Lauren (Kayla Carlyle) is a shoulder-shrugging, knee-hugging 16-year-old, hoping to learn enough acting technique to snag the lead in the high school's West Side Story. Marty (Bill Jenkins) is husband to the earnest teacher, Marty (Lisa Hassler).
The play's staccato-paced scenes make nice use of silence and pauses, and range from whimsical (a girl-to-girl chat about going gray down there) to achingly real (Schultz and Theresa flirting awkwardly across the room; Schultz and Theresa breaking up in the same positions later). The acting is all small moves and conversational tones, something Wold, Blackburn and Carlyle excel at.
At an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, Circle Mirror Transformation starts feeling long well before it ends with the heartwarming scene that doesn't come as a surprise. This is one six-week drama workshop that should have stopped at five.
Circle Mirror Transformation