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Annie Baker's "Circle Mirror Transformation" at Playwrights Horizons

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Circle Mirror Transformation
By Annie Baker
Directed by Sam Gold
Playwrights Horizons
Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Tim Sanford, Artistic Director
Leslie Marcus, Managing Director
William Russo, General Manager

Reed Birney, Tracee Chimo, Peter Friedman
Deirdre O’Connell, Heidi Schreck

Scenic & Costume Design by David Zinn
Lighting Design by Mark Barton
Sound Design by Leah Gelpe
Casting by Alaine Alldaffer
Director of Development, Jill Garland
Production Stage Manager, Alaina Taylor
Production Manager, Christopher Boll
Press Representative, The Publicity Office

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 22, 2009

Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation, at Playwrights Horizons, is more about psychotherapy-psychobabble than yoga-acting, the stated aim of the action. It’s an unsettling play about a teacher (Deirdre O’Connell as Marty), in a continuing education class in Shirley, Vermont, who leads an emotionally cathartic class, supposedly in drama. But, actually, Marty exploits the setup to analyze her own husband, James (Peter Friedman), who’s attracted to Theresa (Heidi Schreck), who seems to exploit Schultz (Reed Birney), who really falls for Theresa. Lauren (Tracee Chimo), a much younger character, was actually in this sterile school gym for the advertised drama class, and paying for it was a major struggle. Yet, Marty, with an apparent generous nature, overlooked the underfunded student’s balance, but didn’t overlook her husband’s own transformation.

Marty has her “students”, more like lab rats, walk in a large circle and make noises and one-word chants, in the effort to express a variety of moods and attitudes. They relax with yoga and engage in mind games. One of the mind games is to pretend to be one of the others in the circle and write down a secret. When Marty’s husband, James, who had been intimately affectionate with her, at the edge of the gym, speaks of desire between Theresa and himself, the air is sucked from the circle of characters. But, the audience saw it coming, and both James and Marty seemed to have a need for the sadistic, a repressed love-hate relationship. Schultz, a recent divorcé (who had been even more intimately affectionate with Theresa offstage), is devastated when he’s rejected by Theresa, a trained actress already, who played them all for fools, with a relentless smirk. Lauren, the teen who just wants a theater break, the character from the wrong side of town, was poignant and stable.

Sam Gold directs for nuance and facial inflection, and each character assumes their given roles with the expressive details appropriate to the moment. Yet, this was one play that had me restless and uncomfortable. When group therapy, with meddlesome intrusiveness, is the goal of the plot, then that’s the action that would make more sense. The pregnant pauses and awkward temperament, collectively generated, were agonizing and annoying.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at