Saturday, April 23, 2011

Circle Mirror Transformation

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION fails to reach its potential at Dobama

Watching a group of want to be actors, all of whom have troubled lives, taking a class on how to become actors, sounds like a strong plot idea with a potential for drama, revelation and even possible fun. That’s the situation at Dobama, which is presently staging Annie Baker’s CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION.

The Obie Award-winning play centers on an acting class being offered in a small Vermont town’s community center. Marty, the instructor, rather than using play scenes, employs improvisational concepts to help the creative process. The techniques include both imaginative and absurd activities for the class of five, which includes a flirty former actress, a pouty 16-year-old, a divorced carpenter and Marty's husband.

The students pose as trees, beds and baseball gloves. They create human statues portraying their families. They invent scenes using only the words goulash and ak-mak. They pretend to be one another and write dark secrets on scraps of paper and read them out loud.

The New York Times called Baker’s play, “absorbing, unblinking and sharply funny.” Unfortunately, Dobama’s production is anything but absorbing and there is practically nothing funny going on. The problem is that the extremely slow pacing, blackout after blackout, and lack of full blown interactions, turn the evening into an exercise similar to watching paint dry…not much going on.

Not all of the problem is caused by director Juliette Regnier. She is given a script that is a series of 30-second to 5-minute scenes. Unfortunately, Regnier has inserted blackouts between the segments that are often as long, if not longer, than the scenes. Yes, maybe between the supposed week-long separations between classes, a little more time is needed for costume changes, but, as is, the audience spends more time in the dark than they do in the light. Also there is too much introspection rather than out-and-out physical and verbal angst going on.

The cast is generally fine. But the blend between them falls short because Regnier doesn’t take advantage of the free form of the script, which would have allowed for their true quirkiness and the internal conflict and potential fun to come forth.

The role of Marty, the deeply troubled instructor, who experiences night tremors due to an early life experience, is nicely developed on a surface level by Molly Cornwell, but the depth of her hurt isn’t always apparent.

Bob Ellis, portraying Marty’s quirky husband, James, needed a more troubled and bizarre tone so that the audience could understand his problematic personality.

Joe Milan is properly pathetic as Schultz, the recently divorced and lonely man looking for some physical connection. Again, a little more angst and desperateness would have fleshed out the underlying torture he is experiencing.

Leighann Niles DeLorenzo has the right spark as Theresa, the supposed New York actress who has returned to the small town to get away from her boyfriend. There is a deeper story behind that escape. DeLorenzo needed even more extremes of character portrayal to allow for insight into this troubled lady.

Allison Bencar as Lauren, the product of a troubled home, gave the illusion of the conflicted teen, but there was much below the surface that needed to come out.

Sounds like we need more drama? No, just clearer character development which would have led to more emotional and bizarre interplays between the personalities.

Mark Kopak’s clean line dance studio, complete with mirrors that could have been used more to allow the characters to really see each other, and the audience to see themselves in blurred visions of reality, would have helped. The word mirror is in the title for a reason.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION is a long sit. There are just too many long blackouts and a lack of playing off the author’s clear characters to get the full effect of the script.

PS…within the last several months Dobama has lost several of its historically important figures. We say a sad farewell to Peggy Buerkel and Everett Dodrill. Without their efforts and dramatic skills Dobama would not be the fine theatre it is today.