Reviewed by Vlad Dima
This was my first time in the Guthrie's Dowling Studio, a small room at the top of the building designed for experimental theater, partnership with other local theaters, and the development of new artists. The Studio is then the perfect place for the one-set, five-character play that takes place inside, in a windowless dance studio. The lives of the five people who are taking an acting class become intertwined, and eventually they, along with the audience, begin to ignore the rules of time and space, as we all confuse reality and fiction, theater and life. This is a wonderful meditation on theater that draws its energy from the synergy of the five actors, but also from the often contradictory reaction of the audience. This is a play that walks a thin line between the tragic and the comedic, and the two are often fused, as the audience laughs at very sad and heavy moments.
The "circle" in the title refers to the five actors playing fictional actors who sit in the dance studio. It may also refer to the hula hoop that Theresa, played by Tracey Maloney, employs, and that everyone else touches throughout the play. In one particularly suggestive scene, Theresa shows everyone how to use the hula hoop, and for several seconds she is right in the middle of the stage, while the other four characters merely observe, fascinated. "The trick is less movement....as opposed to more movement," she says, which is a direct reference to the aesthetic choice made by the author, Annie Barker. This is a play about lack of movement, lack of space, and about silences. The five characters are trapped inside a hula hoop, inside their own circle, inside a dance studio, and finally, inside the circle/square formed by the audience. The Dowling Studio bolsters a thrust stage, and the set, perfectly designed by director Benjamin McGovern, showcases a large mirror. That mirror, the "mirror" in the title maybe, reflects not only the characters, but the audience as well, which leads to having an audience not just on three sides, but four. The "real" actors are playing actors who pretend to be someone else; they act out scenes from their own lives; they watch others play themselves, which can be extrapolated to what the audience sees and feels-we are watching others play ourselves. Everyone is involved, as the lines between real life and theater are blurred: "I guess my life is pretty real," says Lauren unconvincingly. She is the teenager played by Ali Rose Dachis. The "transformation" from the title possibly refers to Lauren's hesitation about whether her life is real. The journey that the five characters take is one of therapeutic purposes-they all heal, or begin to heal, which suggests that theater cures.
five actors play off one another brilliantly, slowly unveiling the tragedies
that pester their lives. Chris Carlson (James) is steady and convincing as a man
tormented by the lack of love, in spite of already being in a second marriage. Angela
his wife, Marty, with vigor and enthusiasm, but switches registers completely
toward the end when we finally see her anguish surface. Tracey Maloney radiates
positive energy, while also making us aware of her hopelessness. Along the same
lines, Bill McCallum's Schultz is more consistently tragic, and yet provides the audience
with the most laughs, too. He is excellent at navigating between comedy and
tragedy, sometimes encompassing both in one word, or one facial expression.
Finally, Ali Rose Dachis is remarkable in the difficult part of a sixteen-year
old, who, in spite of being the youngest character, also has the most layers.
She questions everything, she doubts, she has fears, she is awkward and seldom
happy, but she is only at the beginning of her life. There is time to change,
to "transform." So Dachis' Lauren best represents the essence of the
entire play: theater is life, and life is pretty real.