By Miles Temel
I had the opportunity to attend the second of four performances of Circle Mirror Transformation at the Hop’s Bentley Theater. This play, by Annie Baker, tells the story of the members of an adult creative drama class at a Vermont community center: Marty, the middle-aged woman who teaches the class; James, her husband; Schultz, a recently divorced carpenter; Theresa, a former actress and avid “hooper” (“hula hooper,” she explains, is a common misnomer); and Lauren, an introverted high-school junior hoping to land the role of Maria in her school’s production of West Side Story.
The play begins with the commencement of week one of the six-week class. As audience members find their seats, the five characters shuffle in onto the stage, representing the basement of the community center, and mingle with each other. They carry with them the main props–their pocketbooks and backpacks, Theresa’s hoop and a couple of boxes, which would be used as set pieces during the acting classes. Each act of the play is a different week of the class, and scene changes separate the various acting games the members of the class undertake.
For many of the exercises, the members of the class must inhabit the world of other people in the class by assuming his or her identity, or the identity of someone important in his or her life. Thus, the audience learns not only about the lives of the character being portrayed, but also about the character performing the portrayal. For example, Schultz’s romantic interest in Theresa is apparent when he acts as her and “introduces herself” to the class, as each member does for a different person each week. Similarly, when Marty takes on the role of Lauren’s mother and acts out a scene in which she confronts James, who plays Lauren’s neglecting father, the audience understands both the roots of Lauren’s introversion and senses the crumbling of James and Marty’s marriage. The play reaches a climax in week five of the class, when each of the group writes down a secret they have never told anyone, and other group members read them aloud without knowing the author of each secret.
While watching the show, I marveled at the strong performances of the actors and actresses and the well designed technical elements of the show. However, I was most impressed with the level to which students took the lead in bringing this show to life, while theater department staff stepped back and assumed the roles of advisors. Liza Couser ’17 directed the show, and other students were responsible for scenic design, costume design and sound design. The production team comprises student volunteers and members of the THEA 40 class. A compelling performance and triumph of student leadership, Circle Mirror Transformation was a gem of the Hopkins Center’s fall season.
I am a ’20 from Westerly, RI. In addition to being an Arts Ambassador, I am a member of ECO and was recently an assistant stage manager for the fall production of Intimate Apparel. I am considering majoring in Comparative Literature or Environmental Studies.