SANTA FE, N.M. — ‘Start again,” acting teacher Marty tells her four-member class over and over again during their six weeks together in a windowless Vermont studio.
And that may be the message of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” a play by Annie Baker that is opening at the Adobe Rose Theatre on Thursday for a three-week run.
“It’s a fascinating play about how people meet at random and change, how our lives change all the time,” said director Wendy Chapin. “We always are starting over again.”
“I think they (the play’s characters) all come up against their limitations … and are changed by each other,” said Kent Kirkpatrick, who portrays James, Marty’s husband and participant in the classes. “There is a generosity of spirit in what they give to each other.”
And Lynn Goodwin, who takes on the role of Marty, noted that the play “is a discovery of where each of them is in life at that particular moment.” It’s that discovery and the interactions of the characters that “create the dynamic to make change.”
The play itself is deceptively simple, never straying from the studio set and taking no intermission, showing the class week after week going through a number of acting exercises.
“A whole lot of the plot happens between classes. You only see the effects,” said Kirkpatrick.
So you sense the tension that builds between individuals as two students date, then split, and another long-time couple sees a disintegration of the foundation of their relationship.
A teen (played by Marika Sayers, a student at the New Mexico School for the Arts) watches all the developments around her and asks, well, are they ever going to start acting?
It’s a good question, because the classes consist of exercises, many of them related to team-building, in which participants lie on the floor and try to sense the others so that they can randomly cry out consecutive numbers without more than one speaking at once; in which they introduce each other by speaking in that other person’s voice; in which they write secrets on pieces of paper, mix them together and then pick one to read aloud.
In the process, layers are peeled and souls slowly bared.
Kirkpatrick said he laughed when he first read the script, recognizing the exercises that he encountered in years of acting classes. “I sensed so much going on under the surface,” he said. “It’s a very human and unusual play.”
Maureen McKenna, who plays Theresa, an actress who left New York for the slower pace of Vermont, said, “It’s an upbeat, feel-good, fun play,” she said. “At the end, hopefully, they did become their best selves.”
Baker, who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for a later play, “The Flick,” includes some interesting comments in her author’s note on this play, urging the players to resist the urge to pick up the pace, and to give full attention to the pauses and silences written into the script.
“If you skip over or rush through these silences, you are performing a different play,” she wrote. “Without its silences, this play is a satire and, with its silences it is, hopefully, a strange little naturalistic meditation on theater and life and death and the passing of time.”
Chapin gives a hearty “amen” to that.
“There is silence because you are too full, not too empty,” she said. “It is there that the real human comes forth.”
Chapin said she had to stop the actors in a rehearsal because they were having a difficult time remembering where the silences fell. “When they take time (with the silences), it changes the whole scene.”
“The silences are really important,” McKenna agreed. “So much happens in them.”
The play, which premiered in 2009 in New York City, “is not written conventionally at all …,” Chapin said. “She (Baker) is more filmic in her writing style – that’s true of a lot of young writers now.”
McKenna said she is attracted to plays such as this in which people are imperfect, and the beauty and agony of their struggles is revealed. “I’m very addicted to that – your struggle to be better,” she said.