Life comes full circle at Center for the Arts

Ivy King

Kathleen Macari

By R. Eli Townsend
Special to The PREVIEW
A play about four adults and a teen taking a creative dramatics class over the course of six weeks?
Off hand, it sounds like a recipe for stereotypes replete with clichés. Not in the case of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” a 90-minute, one-act by playwright Annie Baker opening Jan. 12 at Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.
Thanks to Melissa Firlit’s deft direction, Thingamajig Theatre Company’s production is exceptionally charming and filled with performances to fall in love with.
At the heart of the class is Marty (Boni McIntyre), a longtime community center instructor who has finally achieved her dream of teaching a creative drama class for adults. Enrolled in the class are her husband, James (Dennis Elkins), middle-aged recent divorcé Schultz (Dan Morrison), high school student Lauren (Kathleen Macari) and Theresa (Ivy King), an actor who became disenchanted with the New York stage and settled down in the small Vermont town in hopes of making a difference in people’s lives there.
As the class and the story progress, fleeting moments of romance, friendship, tension and more spark between the participants as they share more and more of themselves through the exercises.
Baker’s style of storytelling is hyper-realistic. For example, the title, “Circle Mirror Transformation,” comes from the name of a theater game that is played in real time onstage, in which the participants lie with their eyes closed in the dark and must count to 10 as a group without anyone speaking simultaneously. The game is slow and quiet, but within it lies infinite layers of meaning as each subsequent iteration embodies the changing mood and relationships of the characters involved. Baker makes symphonies out of silences, poetry out of the pedestrian. Her text is subtle, rich and layered, yet simple.
During the six weeks, relationships are formed and strained, and the characters learn more about each other than they imagined they would. There’s as much going on underneath and between the lines as in the dialogue itself.
One scene — a simple actors’ exercise between James and Theresa — is almost a metaphor for the play itself. The two are instructed to speak to each other using short, nonsense phrases. By the end of the game, sparks are flying as the two are communicating much more and much deeper than the useless words they’re using would suggest.
All the subtlety and subtext make it a difficult piece to perform, but this ensemble is so engaging, so real, so recognizable you’d be hard-pressed to find a better quintet on-stage. The cast finds the humor in the characters’ foibles and none of the performers overact or overplay things, a testament to Firlit’s direction. And though the group partakes in a few quirky theater games, Baker’s play never goes for the kind of cheap laughs you might expect from a story about a group of would-be actors.
The play’s ending is handled exceptionally. It’s a scene between Lauren and Schultz where the two are instructed to imagine meeting 10 years later. The characters improvise what that encounter might be, and slowly the stage lights focus on the two, helping to blur time and place and creating theater magic. Simple, subtle, well performed and surprisingly moving, the ending sums up the entire production.
“Circle Mirror Transformation” is a brilliant play and the folks at Thingamajig Theatre Company have created one of the best offerings in their short seven-year history. This play is a must-see for fans of the Pulitzer prize winner’s work.
Thingamajig Theatre Company presents “Circle Mirror Transformation.” Rated PG-13. Opening Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. and playing weekdays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Jan. 28. For tickets and show information, visit pagosacenter.org or call 731-SHOW (7469).

This story was posted on January 11, 2018.