Tuesday, November 1, 2011

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

So, while everyone else in St. Louis was watching the World Series (Yay, Cards!), I was in an acting class -- room #107 at the Shirley Community Center in Shirley, Vermont.  This is the setting for Annie Baker's clever and funny off-Broadway play that premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 2009, and won 2010 Obie Awards for Best New American Play, Performance, Ensemble and Direction.

Marty (Lynne Wintersteller) is holding a six-week course in creative drama.  Her four students include her enthusiastic husband James (John Ottavino), Lauren (Charlotte Mae Jusino), a brooding 16 year old, Theresa (Kate Middleton), a perky actress newly transplanted from New York City, and newly out of a toxic relationship, and Schultz (Danny McCarthy), a recently divorced carpenter.  On some level, all of these people are trying to connect in some way.  Now, in the program notes by Gillian McNally, it's pointed out that creative drama is defined as "an improvisational, non-exhibitional, process-centered form of drama in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact and reflect upon human experience."  What better framework could there be to learn about these five people and watch them in turn discover each other?  Under Stuart Carden’s evenly-paced, invisible direction, it works pretty well.

John Ottavino (James), Danny McCarthy (Schultz),
Kate Middleton (Theresa), Charlotte Mae Jusino (Lauren)
and Lynne Wintersteller (Marty).
© Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
There's really no plot to speak of.  The story unfurls through a series of vignettes – mostly comprised of acting exercises.  These exercises include everything from reenacting childhood memories of a stuffed snake, a tree, a bed and baseball glove, to carrying out conversations only using the words “goulash” and “ak-mak”, to telling each others’ stories.  Through these exercises, and the conversations in between, layers of each character are peeled away.  We learn a little about their lives, we get to see relationships form and dissolve and hear sad truths told.

Inside the Rep's cozy 125 seat studio theatre, Jack Magaw's set is impeccable -- a convincing replica of a small dance studio complete with a mirrored wall in the back.  These mirrors make it possible to catch all of the subtleties in the performances (all of them excellent) as well as the reflection of the audience.  This, along with the easy pacing, heightens the voyeuristic feeling of the play.  The costumes by Garth Dunbar were spot-on, and interstitial sound design by Rusty Wandall and lighting by Mark Wilson, came together to create a very realistic setting.  Lynne Wintersteller as Marty, the hippie leader of the proceedings, provided poignant revelations, along with her husband James (John Ottavino), perhaps one of the more over-eager students in her class.  Kate Middleton and Danny McCarthy as Theresa and Schultz were also pitch-perfect in their roles, and watching their characters learn about each other proves to be a real treat sometimes -- sometimes not so much.  Charlotte Mae Jusino was wonderful as Lauren -- not really fitting in anywhere, but desperate to land a role in her high school production of WEST SIDE STORY.  The play doesn't tell you how the lives of these people will unfold, but it gives you just enough leeway to imagine on your own -- and you can't help but wish them the best. 

Check it out!!  It'll be at the Rep's studio theatre until the 13th.

Danny McCarthy (Schultz), Kate Middleton (Theresa),
John Ottavino (James), Lynne Wintersteller (Marty)
and Charlotte Mae Jusino (Lauren).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Stuart Carden
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 13 | tickets: $45 - $58
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Charlotte Mae Jusino (Lauren), Danny McCarthy (Schultz), Kate Middleton (Theresa), John Ottavino (James) and Lynne Wintersteller (Marty).

Set design by Jack Magaw; costume design by Garth Dunbar; lighting design by Mark Wilson; sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Champe Leary.

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