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Circle Mirror Transformation confounds audiences with complex characters

By Brianna Cummings

Section: Arts

October 21, 2016

Brandeis has a renowned theater department known for putting on plays and musicals of every type. Free Play Theater Cooperative’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” was no different.

Annie Baker’s play was shown Friday, Oct. 14 through Sunday, Oct. 16 in the SCC theater. The play starred Amanda Ehrmann ’18 as the main protagonist Marty, Otis Fuqua ’19 as Marty’s husband James, Morgan Winters ’17 as Theresa, Abram Foster ’19 as Shultz and Jessica Spierer ’18 as Lauren. In addition to acting in the play, Ehrmann also served as its producer and is the artistic director of the Free Play Theater Cooperative.

“Circle Mirror Transformation” takes place in a small town in Vermont. In this town, Marty teaches an alternative acting class. Among her students are her husband James, former actress Theresa, the anxious divorced carpenter Shultz and overly ambitious high school junior Lauren.

Ehrmann made sure to dive into Marty’s thoughts and feelings, which helped her character feel real and powerful. “I needed to establish Marty as a vulnerable, sympathetic character,” Ehrmann noted.

“I worked closely with Kaelan, our director, and Yair, our dramaturg, to identify what was most important to Marty,” Ehrmann explained. “Once I had established her basic personality, I focused on the essential questions that didn’t have completely obvious answers.” These questions included, “Why did Marty want James, her husband, to participate in her class? Why was she in a relationship with someone she knew had cheated in the past? At what point did her desire to make a difference conflict with her reality?”

When the play begins, the audience sees the main characters lying on the floor on their backs, counting with Marty leading them. The lights go out momentarily, and the audience is presented with a new scene. At the beginning of each scene one of the characters has a monologue that also serves as the biography for one of the other characters.

In the first scene, the audience sees James telling the group about Marty from her perspective. This technique confused the audience at first but as the play continued, they became used to it. The play had very few props: just a chair, a blue medicine ball, a couple of water bottles, a cubby holder and a whiteboard, which served to count the weeks that progressed as the play went on.

Each character had their own struggle that they were going through, and Marty’s class seemed to serve as a distraction. Theresa had recently moved from New York and had left an abusive relationship. Shultz was upset about his divorce and found himself slowly falling in love with Theresa. Marty and James were having marriage issues because Marty had told their daughter about James’ infidelity in his previous marriage, and Lauren was frustrated with Marty’s teaching methods and wanted to learn “how to become a real actress.”

The audience is able to cheer on the budding romance between Shultz and Theresa and feels upset when their relationship goes sour. The audience is also sucked into scenes where the characters get overly emotional, such as James and Marty yelling at each other in a scene where they are reenact Lauren’s childhood, with the implication that Marty had been abused.

The play also had some lighthearted scenes. The fact that Shultz’s character was so socially awkward added humor to the play. In a scene where the cast is reenacting Shultz’s childhood, James is asked to pretend to be Shultz’s bed, a scene which filled the auditorium with laughter. The audience also felt like Lauren’s overly self-confident attitude was comedic. Although Theresa’s character had complexity to her, she was also a ditz; there was a scene where she described meeting a man on the subway and assuming he was Jewish because of his appearance.

The play lasted just over two hours, with a 10 minute intermission. At the end of the play, it was obvious that the audience enjoyed the experimental play, and “Circle Mirror Transformation” received roaring applause.

“I think the play was very minimalist when it came to props but it still felt realistic,” Yaneth Martinez ’20 said. “I liked how the characters were having real life problems.”

“My favorite thing about the play was that it challenged the conventional theater narrative,” Ehrmann said. “There were stage directions dictating the stage is left empty for 25 seconds or the group experiences a wounded silence—moments that are supposed to catch the audience off guard and proved subtly beautiful.”

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