Review: Circle Mirror Transformation (Victory Gardens)

 
 

Changing others for good, sometimes forever

  
  

Steve Key, Joseph D. Lauck, Rae Gray, Lori Myers, and Carmen Roman in a scene from Victory Garden's 'Circle Mirror Transformation'.

  
Victory Gardens Theater presents
   
Circle Mirror Transformation
  
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Dexter Bullard
Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
through April 17  |  tickets: $35-$50  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Slow and steady wins the race, so they say. In less than two hours, Annie Baker’s justly praised drama marches to its own different drummer as it covers a fairly uneventful six weeks in the course of a community-theater adult class for “Creative Drama” in the small town of Shirley, Vermont. (Don’t worry—This gentle character drama has none of the cruelty of Waiting for Guffman.) Dexter Bullard’s local premiere explains why New York went a bit crazy over this minimalist masterwork, where less is so much more than more ever was.

Carmen Roman looks on as 2 of her students go through an acting exercise in Victory Garden's 'Circle Mirror Transformation'.“Creative” is the operative word, because the four students and one teacher aren’t ramping up to a real rehearsal of an actual play, let alone a finished production. Teacher Marty (Carmen Roman,as a mentor with miseries) leads the hopeful thespians in a series of touchy-feely theater games and emotive exercises. These build a lot more trust and self-esteem than they could ever nurture trained acting that could actually be used to earn a living. (They resemble the Viola Spolin-style Method-acting tricks spoofed in the song “Nothing” from A Chorus Line.)

But the fact that Marty puts technique far above content perfectly suits this still-waters-run-deep comedy. The “transformation” in the title refers to the barely perceptible ways in which people change each other for good and sometimes forever. Baker doesn’t bother to explain how or why they do it. Much is left unspoken but not unfelt, even when the action seems one protracted non sequitur.

Besides Roman’s conflicted instructor, we meet Lauren (a concentrated Rae Gray), a seemingly surly, very complicated 16-year-old who really does want to act and craves a chance to be someone other than a complicated teenager who really does want to act. She bonds with her opposite, 55-year-old James (Joseph D. Lauck, hiding far more than he shows, especially about his relationship with Marty): James has his own domestic backstory which he wants to escape from, not draw upon as the games require. Lori Myers energizes Theresa, the new girl in town, who finds herself drawn to now-available Schultz (Steve Key), an estranged husband who’s shy and a tad too sensitive even for this situation.

Lori Myers and Carmen Roman in 'Circle Mirror Transformation' at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre in ChicagoThe games they “play” yield a series of “Truth or Consequences” moments of truth: In one devastating moment, they read each other’s darkest secrets: We can only guess whose they really are. What’s most amazing over the course of the play is the occasional “reenactments” in which one student plays another: From the depth and detail of the portrayals you realize just how much quality time they’ve spent together.

The fact that not much happens here is exactly the point – and for many theatergoers that, alas, may be exactly the problem. Nothing epic sparks the story. But Baker has created a theatrical complement to real life. Their assorted epiphanies, turning points and kinetic breakthroughs are few and far between, especially in a span as short as six weeks. Just because the life-changing stuff doesn’t happen often or as expected doesn’t mean that what’s left doesn’t deserve the respect of a dramatic depiction. Circle Mirror Transformation is very respect-full.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Steve Key, Joseph D. Lauck, Rae Gray, Lori Myers, and Carmen Roman in a scene from Victory Garden's 'Circle Mirror Transformation'.

Circle Mirror Transformation continues thru April 17th at Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with performance Tues-Saturday: 8pm, Saturday matinee: 4pm, Sunday matinee: 2pm, and Wednesday matinee at 2pm.  Tickets are $35-$50 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-871-3000.

  
  

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REVIEW: Jailbait (Profiles Theatre)

Teens grow up too fast in Profile’s tense tragicomedy

 

Emmy (Zoe Levin) and friend Claire (Rae Gray) in Profiles Theatre's "Jailbait" by Deidre O'Connor

   
Profiles Theatre presents
   
Jailbait
  
Written by Deidre O’Connor
Directed by
Joe Jahraus
at
Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway (map)
through October 17  |  tickets: $30-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

“We’re 15, everything fun is illegal,” Emmy (Zoe Levin) tells her friend Claire (Rae Gray) as they prepare to sneak into a 21-and-over nightclub. Over the course of Deidre O’Connor’s Jailbait, the two girls learn why those laws are in place when they’re paired off with Mark (Shane Kenyon) and Robert (Eric Burgher), two thirty-somethings looking for an undergrad-style night of drunken debauchery.

Emmy (Zoe Levin) and friend Claire (Rae Gray) in Profiles Theatre's "Jailbait" by Deidre O'ConnorWith children being exposed to sexually charged material at an earlier age, what was once considered deplorable behavior is becoming the norm for teenagers. Playwright Deidre O’Connor recognizes this changing social climate without passing judgment, letting the audience draw conclusions as the events unfold. The script realistically confronts the issue of teenage sexuality without being preachy, creating a complex situation where blame is shared between all involved parties and everyone is a victim.

With a cast of actors adept at creating believable characters, Joe Jahraus directs a tense, provocative production that reinforces the themes of the script beautifully. Gray gives an outstanding performance as Claire, who is simultaneously struggling with the pressures of adolescence and the loss of her father. Claire blossoms in the liberate environment of the adult world, and Gray captures both the awkward teen and confident woman in Claire beautifully.

In a play full of tense moments, Claire’s scenes with the newly single Robert are especially painful to watch because of the actors’ terrific chemistry, milking dramatic irony for all its worth as the attraction builds. An interesting dynamic develops during these scenes, with Robert acting more youthful and carefree as Claire matures, effectively bridging the emotional age gap while the physical and legal age gaps loom dreadfully. The play succeeds largely in part due to Burgher’s vulnerable, anxious, but ultimately charming portrayal of Robert, avoiding any predatory qualities that could compromise the innocence of his courtship with Claire. The character is likable, making it so much more difficult to watch him seduce a 15 year old girl.

In supporting roles, Levin and Kenyon are the drunker, rowdier pair, providing comic relief while still being given a fair share of meaty, dramatic moments. As a man whose “first wife hasn’t even born yet,” Mark is the closest thing to the play’s antagonist, with his manipulation setting tragic events in motion. Kenyon’s charisma makes it hard to hate the character, and he does have a point when it comes to the arguments he makes to lift Robert out of his slump – except for the part where the girls are 15. Levin spends a good amount of the show playing drunk, a difficult task she performs impressively, but she also gives Emmy a clear emotional journey, making her more vulnerable as the play progresses.

At the end of Jailbait, Claire and Emmy talk about the events of the night with the excitement of teenage girls gossiping about their latest crushes, free from the burdens of being an adult. This scene is welcome relief from the tension of the rest of the play, but also serves as a foreboding reminder that once the adult has touched you, it owns you. Growing up will happen no matter what, so why lose your childhood?

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Jailbait Press Photo 4

Production Personnel

Playwright: Deidre O’Connor
Director: Joe Jahraus
Featuring: Eric Burgher, Rae Gray, Shane Kenyon, Zoe Levin
Lighting Design: Jess Harpenau
Sound Design: Jeffrey Levin
Set Design: Sotirios Livaditis
Costumes:  Melissa Ng
Stage Manager:  Corey Weinberg