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Reflecting on Life in All In Productions' 'Circle Mirror Transformation'

Apr. 11, 2017
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In Annie Baker’s play Circle Mirror Transformation, art not only imitates life, it transforms it in ways unseen, changing the lives of those reflected back through that art, and with unforeseen consequences. Such is the case with the riveting, well-acted production currently staged by All In Productions—a 2-year-old company that has tackled some impressive shows in the past (The Last Five Years, The Wild Party) and continues its theatrical momentum with CMT.

What fascinates about this production is the seeming simplicity and surface ordinariness of the storyline: Four people take a six-week class, “Adult Creative Drama,” at their local community center in Shirley, Va. The fifth, instructor Marty (Jennifer Grundy) is married to one of the students, James (Joe Krapf), who also runs the center. Add in Lauren (Sarah Caveney), a quiet high school junior, Schultz (Matthew Scales), a recently divorced carpenter, and Teresa (Abby Stein), a former New York City actress escaping the Big Apple for small-town respite and it all appears fairly routine, even mundane.

But Director Mitch Weindorf understands the characters’ underlying complexities within Baker’s minimalist dialogue. The nonverbal gestures speak volumes here, and the uniform excellence of the cast speaks powerfully through the silences—words unsaid, but feelings pushing through to be heard.

In an all-telling, recurring exercise, one student tells the life story of another student, who remains silent, listening and watching. The furtive glance and the downcast eyes speak more than the words themselves. Baker teaches us, the audience, to pay attention to the body language. What is unsaid: It’s there that the truth lies buried. 

This is not a class that recites William Shakespeare or runs lines from well-known plays. Halfway through the play, Lauren asks of teacher Marty, “Are we ever going to learn how to act?” It’s a funny line that gets laughs. But they’re actually doing what they came there to learn. They’re just living it while practicing the art and reflecting it back at themselves.

Through April 15 at the Alchemist Theatre, 2569 S. Kinnickinnic, Bay View. For tickets visit: allin-mke.com.


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