Diane Stretz-thurmond, Sean Childress, Heather Hensley, Kim Butterweck & Brent Gettlefinger
in Circle Mirror Transformation. Photo-Eve Theatre
Circle Mirror Transformation
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by John Finnigan
Review by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2015, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
I went in to see Eve Theater Company’s latest production, Circle Mirror Transformation, with no preconceptions. I had never heard of the play but I was familiar with the company’s reputation so my interest was definitely piqued. A quick perusal of the program showed several familiar and talented local actors in the cast, bringing my expectations up just a tad.
The small stage in The Bard’s Town’s upstairs theater is nicely decorated as a classroom in a local community center full of theater paraphernalia on the walls and floors. When the show opens, actor Sean Childress introduces himself to a group of theater students as Marty, their teacher, and explains that his husband is also in the class. So I naturally assumed there would be some issues for the gay community involved in what was obviously a play about a theater class.
It wasn’t until several scenes later that I realized that assumption was completely wrong. As I eventually figured out, Childress is playing a character named James, and he has actually been pretending to be his own wife Marty (Diane Stretz-thurmond); his pretense has just been a theater game. One of many assorted games that make up most of the show’s running time. Have I confused you? Oh, we’re just getting started.
The show covers the six weeks of an acting class conducted by Marty, but she doesn’t have her students play scenes or learn lines; her curriculum is one interminably pointless theater game after another. Counting to ten, role reversals, hooping, improvisations, etc. It’s not a terribly effective way to drive a plot for a play, as the games barely stop long enough to show us these characters as anything other than plot devices.
There are snatches of dialogue that manage to move the story along in fits and starts, and it’s in those brief moments that the talented cast gets to shine. The cleverest thing about the setup is that we only really get insight into these characters when they are play-acting as each other, and the show’s rather poignant ending does manage to catch you by surprise.
As directed by John Finnigan, the weak script by Annie Baker further suffers from glacially slow pacing. Each of the six scenes are broken up into shorter scenes by frequent blackouts that last far too long, and the actors deliver their lines with so many dramatic pauses you’d think they were directed by William Shatner!
That’s not to say that the performances are without merit. Childress is skilled at making any material work, and he makes the best of a thin script here. He plays James as a bit of the henpecked husband, until the moment his frustrations rise to the surface and he explodes in unexpected rage. Stretz-thurmond is also thoroughly convincing as Marty, a woman who seems to be living her life vicariously through her students. Some of the best laughs come from Heather Hensley’s portrayal of Lauren, a high school student who gets as frustrated as the audience does with the constant theater games.
I’d have to say, though, the best work here is done by Brent Gettelfinger as Schultz, a recently divorced sad sack whose attraction to another student (a very capable Kim Butterweck) brings him out of his shell. His character is the only one that really holds your attention, and Gettelfinger really nails his emotional journey.
This is a difficult show to recommend, mainly because it was not a great script to begin with, but I think with the talent involved, this is probably about as good a production that could be made of it. I’d really recommend picking up the pace and rethinking the constant blackouts, though. It may appeal more to theater students who actually have experienced the type of training depicted here, but the Friday night audience I attended with was pretty quiet.
Featuring Kim Butterweck, Sean Childress, Brent Gettelfinger, Heather Hensley, and Diane Stretz-thurmond.
Circle Mirror Transformation
May 21-25, 29-31, 2015 @7:30 PM
Eve Theatre Company
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
[box_light]Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 13 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo. [/box_light]