Seattle Repertory Theatre’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” voted one of the top Ten Plays of 2010 in New York, opened Wednesday night at the Leo K. theatre. The “play” takes place in a community center in New England where a group of strangers, go through a process of painful and humorous self-discovery and relationship problems, through participation in an “Adult Creative Drama” class. However, the play was actually a series of vignettes, and the class was actually a mixture of EST, support group, and therapy based on psycho-drama and improv exercises.
The characters come from all walks of life, and different generations. Lauren, played expertly by Anastasia Higham, is a high-school thespian, Schultz, played by Michael Patten is an extremely vulnerable 47-year-old recently divorced carpenter. James, played by Peter A. Jacobs, is the husband of the teacher Marty, played by Gretchen Krich. Theresa, played by Elizabeth Raetz, is the former actress/dancer who asserts her power through preying on vulnerable men and who is responsible for breaking up the marriage of the Marty and James, as well as exploiting the vulnerabilities of Schultz.
Since the short vignettes were interrupted by long black-outs as the characters moved around the stage (the set stayed the same) the material was more suited to T.V. Like many plays, by young playwrights, the exposition was not just overly-long but took up almost the whole 120 minutes. For what seemed like an hour the audience was subjected to innumerable long slow-moving uninteresting theatre games and improv exercises. One wacky, but interesting, theatre game would have sufficed to “explain” to the audience what goes on in a creative drama class. Repeating and repeating activities, which did not advance the plot, did not engage the audience’s attention and did not develop character was very boring and tedious. My ultra-shy bio-statistician companion for the evening remarked later that she thought she would have found it more interesting if she’d ever taken theatre classes, I remarked that she would probably have found it more boring because the humor in these scenes never rose above the sit-com level. Humor which is not profound is never really very funny, and the humor in these scenes was trite and predictable.
Once the character development started the acting soared, the writing delved into some real human emotions and the audience was riveted to their seats. Unfortunately, after the characters go through some changes, the playwright tied up the loose ends by having two characters meet 10 years later and recount what happened. There was enough material to have a fine play, if the playwright had chosen to dramatize what happens to the characters rather than waste so much with exposition, and had not focused exclusively on character development at the expense of plot and action.
Many people did like this play, some of the audience laughed at the appropriate places, so if you like sit-coms it might be an entertaining evening. However, given the superb acting of the cast and the interesting personal dilemmas, I felt cheated because there were some real nuggets here but you had to wait for them.
“Circle Mirror Transformation” by Annie Baker, directed by Andrea Allen. Leo K. Theatre, at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Seattle Center. 201 Mercer St. Seattle. Tues-Sun. 7:30 pm. Sat & Sun 2pm. Oct. 21-Nov 20 (206) 443-2222; www.seattlerep.org/thecrew