Fair warning: Circle Mirror Transformation is comedy for people who like to think, people who are cool with a heaping spoonful of the existential, and people who delight in wordplay. It takes a few minutes to warm up, but once it does, it is an engaging little oddity.
The premise is simple enough. Four students and a teacher are working through exercises for a creative acting class. A few of the exercises are a bit unconventional, but, hey, this is set in Vermont.
While the script is witty, the core of the play is in what the characters reveal about themselves while learning to be “present in the moment” and responsive to their fellow actors. Much of that is revealed through expression and gesture.
Keep your eyes on the expressions of Lauren (Sullivan Graci Hamilton), the sullen teenager who signed up for the class expecting “real acting,” not improvisation.
Poor Lauren might have legitimate cause to feel out of place in the community center. The teacher, Marty (Pam Galle), has not strayed far from her flower child beginnings nor has her husband James (Randy Neale), an aging Casanova who has apparently let decades slip by without ever really coming to understand his wife.
In his defense, she also has managed to get by for far too long without gazing too deep within. Her hippie clothes and talk of peace and love are just another way to avoid truly painful lessons in life.
The class is rounded out by Schultz (Paul Whitty), a recently divorced carpenter who expresses his art through the crafting of specialty chairs (one is a “cloud chair”), and Theresa (Carri Schwab), an actress who fled New York City with the hope of finding compassion and acceptance in Vermont.
It is no surprise when it is revealed that there was a guy back in the city who was, in the end, unkind. Nor is it surprising to learn that she’s not over him yet. Poor Schultz might have seen that one coming had he been in the audience rather than on stage, in the thick of it.
But that’s the point of this story, and why it is told through the lens of the acting craft. We are all on stage, acting, every day of our lives. We’re all trying to get our timing right, to be present in the moment, and to be more aware of those with whom we happen to be sharing a scene.
Life circumstances shift, the cast of characters changes, and we just go on, reciting the lines we know by heart and improvising the rest.
The final scene is further proof of Hamilton’s considerable stage potential. Yes, she can play the disinterested teenager well, but she can also play the disinterested teenager who has nonetheless achieved a startling wealth of insight. And she transforms from one to the other with only the slightest shifts in tone, expression, and posture.
There is plenty of physical comedy. Both Whitty and Schwab are delightfully adept at expressing emotion through posture and movement.
This play may lean toward unfamiliar territory, but rest assured that there’s a boatload of love and yearning and awkwardness waiting to welcome first-time visitors.