We gave it an A
Suspense is a funny thing. You wouldn’t think that watching five characters lying on their backs on stage and counting to 10 would lead to anything but boredom, but the action proves strangely riveting in Annie Baker’s memorable new play, Circle Mirror Transformation, running Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. The five are participants in a hippie-dippy ”creative drama” class in a dance studio at a community center in small-town Vermont — and the show consists almost entirely of these seemingly nondramatic acting exercises and the fleeting conversations that occur between them.
The counting game — in which the five try to feel in sync with each other so they don’t step on each other’s line (if two say the same number at the same time, they have to start again) — proves an apt metaphor for the ways in which strangers come to know each other, and come to develop rhythms and patterns and understandings among each other, many of them unspoken and unacknowledged.
Baker’s characters are a varied lot: There’s den mother Marty (Deirdre O’Connell), who leads the class with gentle persuasion; her husband, James (Peter Friedman), who’s lost touch with his grown daughter; middle-aged divorcé Schultz (Reed Birney), still wearing his wedding ring while idling in a local condo; recent New York City transplant Theresa (Heidi Schreck), a former actress and inveterate flirt now seeking a second career as a massage therapist; and goofy, hoodie-wearing high schooler Lauren (Tracee Chimoo).
Director Sam Gold orchestrates the individual scenes to perfection, letting both the play’s humor and its depth of characterization shine through without forcing either. Circle Mirror Transformation is deceptively simple in structure, but it packs a terrific punch. It reminds us of our inescapable need to come together and forge human connections — it reminds us, in short, of the very power of theater. A
(Tickets: ticketcentral.com or 212.279.4200)