Circle Mirror Transformation Review - Clever and Engaging

From the time I first heard about Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation, when it first premiered in New York City, I have been eagerly awaiting it’s Chicago premiere. This past week I finally had the chance to see it at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Circle Mirror Transformation (directed by Dexter Bullard) is centered around four individuals -- Lauren ( Rae Gray), a quiet, self-conscious 16-year-old; Schultz ( Steve Key), a recently divorced carpenter; James ( Joe D. Lauck), Marty’s husband; and Theresa ( Lori Myers) a former actress -- all of whom sign up for a creative drama class at their local community college in the fictitious town of Shirley, Vermont (where all of Baker’s plays have been set thus far) taught by Marty ( Carmen Roman).

Schultz (Steve Key), Theresa (Lori Myers), Marty (Carmen Roman) and James (Joe D. Lauck).

At first glance, on the surface, the students don’t really seem to have much in common -- apart from a shared interest in the course. That all quickly changes, however, once the class gets going and the exercises begin. Schultz is recently divorced, while Theresa and her boyfriend have recently broken up. In one exercise, Lauren sets out to re-create her home life, or more accurately re-create the dynamic between her mother and father as well as between her father and herself.  She chooses Marty to represent her mother and James to represent her father.

Theresa (Lori Myers) and Marty (Carmen Roman).

And while the scene -- or re-creation -- starts out well enough, it quickly morphs into something else. Suddenly, we realize, James is (in his mind) back home, interacting with his wife, discussing why he is so detached, why there is this disconnect between his daughter, Erin (who we hear of but never actually see) and himself. It is through this sort of sudden switch during the exercise we find out that the relationship between Lauren and her father mirrors the relationship between James and his daughter.

Schultz (Steve Key), Marty (Carmen Roman), Theresa (Lori Myers), and James (Joe D. Lauck).

One of the things that I found to be really intriguing about the play -- a play, it is worth noting, that was (obviously) written in the 21st century, a time when much of our communication is done (like it or not) electronically, either by phone or computer rather than face-to-face -- was how much is said without anyone saying a word. In fact, as much if not more in this play is communicated through what is not said, through the silences, through the body language, the story between the lines, than what the characters actually verbalize. There are scenes in Circle Mirror Transformation for instance where Lauren, arguably the quietest person in the room, is undoubtedly the one who says the most. 

James (Joe D. Lauck), Lauren (Rae Gray), Schultz (Steve Key), Marty (Carmen Roman), and Theresa (Lori Myers).

After seeing a play like this one you really do have to wonder just how much we -- a tech-dependent (and some may even go so far as to say tech-obsessed) society -- really miss when we choose computer-mediated communication over meeting in person. I would say that we stand to miss a lot. When you don’t pay attention to (or, in the case of computers, when you cannot see) these seemingly tiny details (i.e. body language) which, in reality, aren’t tiny at all, you run the very real risk of missing what really is being communicated, in much the same way that you’ll run the risk of missing much of what goes on in the play if you don’t pay attention to the body language of the characters in Baker’s play -- the subtext of the interactions and conversations. 

Schultz (Steve Key), Marty (Carmen Roman), and Theresa (Lori Myers).

If y ou only plan to see one production this year, I can honestly say that this clever, engaging play is a must-see. At the time of publication, Circle Mirror Transformation was scheduled to run through April 17, 2011. Showtimes: Tuesday - Saturday @ 8 PM, Saturday matinee @ 4 PM, Sunday matinee @ 2 PM, and Wednesday matinee @ 2 PM.
For the most current showtimes and to purchase tickets, please visit or call 773-871-3000. TTY: 773-871-0682. 

Lauren (Rae Gray), James (Joe D. Lauck), Schultz (Steve Key), Marty (Carmen Roman), Theresa (Lori Myers).

Photos: Liz Lauren

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