In the last scene of Annie Baker’s craftily constructed CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION, a teenage student, the youngest by far in a five-week community center adult acting workshop, is assigned to improvise what would happen if she accidentally encountered another member of the class ten years hence and was asked to report on the fate and whereabouts of her three fellow students and their teacher.
This afterword of sorts is indicative of how subtly Baker’s play, and Matthew Decker’s production of it for Theatre Horizon, sneaks up on you and moves you. Life doesn’t imitate art as much as combine with it as Baker uses standard theater exercises as a way to acquaint her audience with her characters and as a method of having her characters interact as more than classmates sharing a common experience. Through various games and stratagems, Baker strips away the classmates’ facades and reveals their strengths and vulnerabilities as well as providing insights into their motives and ambitions.
Baker leaves most information about the characters for us, and them, to glean during the theater exercises. Marty (Nancy Boykin), the co-executive director of the community center in Shirley, Vermont, attracts four students and enlists for her adult acting class. Lauren (Emilie Krause) is vying for a part in her high school’s production of West Side Story; Theresa (Kim Carson) has come to Shirley from New York, where she did some acting before her life in the city became intense and she sought a small country town as a place to regroup and plan her next moves; Schultz (David Bardeen) is a carpenter and artisan who comes to the class to help get over a recent divorce; James (Marty’s husband) takes the course to help Marty reach a quota.
Throughout her play, Baker shows how a more accepting response to Marty’s exercises leads to greater ease among the classmates. The students become attuned to each other the way actors must when they share a stage. Decker’s production proceeds at an easy, natural pace in spite of long blackouts between scenes that make the stage static while the audience waits for a surtitle to say “Second Week,” etc.
Nancy Boykin is all attentiveness as Marty. Bob Weick is solid as James, a man whose humor and intellectual ease shows. Kim Carson is radiant as Theresa, giving her a modern young attitude that, coupled with her years in New York, allows her to sail through choppy waters that look as if they may scuttle some of her classmates. David Bardeen is excellent at playing someone who is willing to ask for what he wants and fight to preserve it.
Emilie Krause is spot on as Lauren, who evolves the most during CIRCLE, giving the actor the chance to show Lauren’s growth and how it turns her from an awkward and cynical outsider to a person with confidence and command. By the time Lauren gets to the improv in which she has to prophesy the fate of her cohorts, we see an accomplished confident ingenue on her way to womanhood and the future of her choice. [Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb Street, Norristown, PA] February 21-March 16, 2014; theatrehorizon.org.