This afternoon, I attended a performance of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation. It was a student-run production in the Law Auditorium, but despite the lack of a perfect set, great tech or flawless performances, the script made it a compelling show. Baker writes with a simple truthfulness that resonated with me personally because I’ve been in many classes like the one depicted in the show, but which I’m sure would also resonate with other audience members. Each character is distinct, memorable and recognizable. It could have been my neighbor, teacher and younger cousin in that class.
I think I responded to this piece so strongly because it hit so close of home–I’ve done all the exercises depicted in the show and understand very well the impact they can have on your relationships with people, and with yourself. I loved how Baker used small moments from the exercises, and exchanges during breaks, to build a clear story arch for each character. It’s a testimony to simplicity and truth in theatre.
One of the difficulties about the production that I saw, however, was that all the actors were around the same age. An element of the play was lost by not having the generational differences of the characters come into play. Though the actors did their best to express the struggles of their middle-aged characters, it was clear most were trying to stretch their personal experiences into their characters. Lauren felt like the most honest character, because an actress who is probably around 20 was going back to the age of 16.
This is often a difficulty in college (or high school–obviously the issue is more pronounced in high schools) productions. It makes me wonder whether schools, who are casting mostly from within pools of actors around the same age, should attempt plays with wide-ranges of character ages. Of course, one tried to avoid this completely, there would be very few plays to choose from. Still, this production wetted my appetite for a professional one–I wish I had been able to see it when it was at the Huntington. I think that a lot would be added to the performances if the actors were of varied ages and had a broader range of personal experiences to draw upon.