The five characters in Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation are anything but dramatic. The set-up of her 2009 play isn't very dramatic, either: a six-week acting class taught in the rec room of a community center in a small Vermont town. But the way Baker manages to mine gold from these apparently prosaic characters and situation is simply astonishing.
The 100-minute play, which blends plenty of crackling comedy with some undeniably powerful moments, takes its name from one of the quirky lessons taught by Marty (Linda Gehringer), a New Age-y acting instructor who guides her four students through a series of off-the-wall games and movement exercises to tap into their creative powers. The exercises would be absurd if they weren't exactly the type so often taught in beginning-acting classes: conducting a conversation with only two words repeated over and over (in this sense, goulash and something that sounds like "acmac"); using human bodies to replicate a 50-year-old man's childhood bedroom; actors standing in a circle and mirroring, and then transforming, one another's movements (the exercise from which the title comes). Andmost powerfully and for all the wrong reasonsfive people writing down a secret they've never shared with anyone else, anonymous secrets that are distributed among the class, then read aloud to disastrous results.
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