Review: “Circle Mirror Transformation” in Novato

If you’ve ever glanced at a flyer hanging from a community center bulletin board that offers an acting   course and worried about the time commitment required, playwright Annie Baker’s got you covered. In Circle Mirror Transformation, now running at the Novato Theater Company through September 25, Baker covers in two hours what most courses do in six weeks.

Set in Baker’s favorite fictional locale of Shirley, Vermont, in what appears to be a small dance room, Marty (Heather Richardson) is leading an “Adult Creative Drama” class.  Enrollment in the class is small with just four students in attendance including Marty’s husband James (Ray Martin). Other students include Schultz (Rob Garcia), a newly-divorced carpenter tip-toeing out into the social world again, Theresa (Sabina Beachdell), who’s retreated from the super-competitive acting world of New York, and Lauren (Shayla Lawler), a high school junior looking to get a leg up on the competition for the lead role in her high school musical.  

The audience is treated to a series of blackouts and short vignettes as the course progresses and the class engages in a series of theatre exercises and games like “One-word Story” and “1…2…3…” that will bring back memories (both good and bad) to anyone who’s ever taken a drama class at any level. The games elicit truths about each participant that are alternately amusing, saddening, and shocking.

Heather Richardson, Ray Martin, Rob Garcia, Sabina Beachdell, Shayla Lawler

Director Jesse Lumb has a strong cast at work here, with Shepardson’s Marty the solid center of the piece. The perfectly-draped “drama mama” (costumes by Joy Aivaliotis) finds herself as much of a student as her underlings, particularly when it comes to her relationship with her husband. Martin does a nice job revealing what lies beneath James’ mellow exterior. Garcia and Beachdell’s characters have the most dramatic arc as their wounded characters reach out to each other and soon regret it. Lawler’s Lauren has the line of the show when, out of exasperation with the seemingly never-ending string of games, she blurts out “Are we ever going to do any real acting?”    

Circle Mirror Transformation is not a play that will appeal to everyone’s taste. It thoroughly engaged me, but it bewildered a portion of the audience. I suspect some felt as if they had wandered into an actual class.

Which is actually a tribute to the work done here.

’Circle Mirror Transformation’ runs through October 2 at the Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Ste. C, Novato. Fri & Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $15–$27. 415.883.4498. Proof of vaccination required to attend. Masking is encouraged. novatotheatercompany.org.

Photos by Jere Torkelsen

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.

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