Studio's Circle Mirror Transformation

Circle Mirror Transformation, now playing at Studio, is a lovely night of theatre. The play takes place over a six week Creative Dramatics class for adults at a community center in Vermont. As the class unfolds, relationships develop and change, and personalities and histories are revealed, usually through the use of acting games. Much of the humor comes from the audience laughing at these games, and maybe it’s a little unfortunate that actors are such an easy target, but in spite of my reservations on that account, I did chuckle in recognition every time a new game was introduced.

This is a play that has a life ahead of it -- is going to become very popular on the University circuit and among community theatres. But I fear the script will not hold up as well in these settings. It requires a sensitive touch, both from the actors and from the director, in order to avoid these characters becoming stereotypes. And what is really happening on stage is much more in the silences and the reactions than in the lines themselves. These are aspects that will surely get lost with less talented people involved.

Fortunately, this production at Studio highlights all the best of the play. From the excellent direction of David Muse to the virtually perfect cast, this production lets the script work the way it was meant to work. Every actor gives a complete performance, avoiding cliché and retaining audience sympathy. Harry A. Winter is likeable as James, husband of the teacher (which is surely the reason he’s in the class), whose marriage is not a strong as it initially seems. Jeff Talbott is vulnerable as Schultz, a recent divorcee, and a man looking for a new start. Kathleen McElfresh as Theresa is the most eager student, an actress that has left cold and competitive New York for Vermont. Jennifer Mendenhall takes on perhaps the most difficult role, that of Marty, the acting teacher. A lesser actress would make this character fall into kooky-lady-with-flowing-skirts land, but Mendenhall remains believable at all moments, while showing a deft comedic skill. She knows how to get the laughs without making the character ridiculous. But best of all may be MacKenzie Meehan who quietly steals the show with her sensitive portrayal of 16-year-old Lauren. Lauren’s adolescent no-nonsense attitude cuts through the posturings of the adults in the class. Over the six weeks Meehan skillfully shows Lauren coming out of her shell and maturing into an adult, culminating in the final, touching moments of the play.

Debra Booth designed a thoroughly detailed and convincing set of a studio. I loved that the first row of seats was taken up and re-bolted down on top of the wooden slab floor, making the audience part of the room itself, as does the mirror that lines the back wall, reflecting back the characters’ insecurities and our own reactions.

3 stars
Through October 17


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