Play Practice’s Circle Mirror Transformation is Mind-Opening and Entertaining
Circle Mirror Transformation, a play performed by the Play Practice Collective in the cozy Bloor Street space of the Storefront Theatre, explores the intersecting lives of five individuals who enroll in a creative drama class for adults. Written by American playwright Annie Baker, the show peers behind the awkward curtain of first encounters, and touches upon the way the people we meet, even for a short time, can have a big effect on our lives.
Director Heather E. Braaten chose a deft crew of five seasoned actors for her ensemble. The characters in Annie Baker’s world are very real, ordinary people, and I got a strong sense that each of the actors was able to bring a little bit of themselves to their roles. It leant to a lovely natural quality in their delivery, and their performances pulled both my date and my attention in right away.
I have to commend the Play Practice Collective team for being able to scrounge up such engaging energy despite having a bare minimum audience. Seriously, I’m hoping it was only a result of the long weekend, but the Saturday night performance I had the pleasure of seeing only had four people in attendance. I can only imagine how hard it must be to perform at full capacity when you might not get too much of it back.
I did find that, as the play progressed, some of the awkwardness of the scenes felt a bit dragged out. Six weeks can feel like an eternity for people who are spending an extended period of time together, and it felt like that uncomfortable “I don’t really know you yet” mantle was never quite shaken off. This sort of caused the momentum of the show to feel a bit stagnant at points, even laggy. Though the interesting way Baker reveals more and more about the characters through theatre exercises, and the deft skill of the actors does make up for it a little bit.
My date explicitly mentioned that he never thought once about how much longer was left of the show. He did have a complaint about the ending not wrapping up as nicely as he would have liked, but isn’t that just the nature of real life?
The play takes place in a typical dance studio in a community centre, somewhere in the quaint state of Vermont. I appreciated the simple and effective set design which made the stage an actual studio as opposed to a black box with a walled mirror. The details were a lovely touch, like hooks on the walls, baskets of assorted yoga mats, and a dry erase board that updated the audience on what week of class the characters were in.
I think this show probably won’t get the recognition it deserves, which makes me a little sad. Play Practice Collective has taken a simple, relatable piece and put it together with care and precision. It’s the kind of work that won’t make you chew your fingernails trying to decipher meaning, but will still make you appreciate the strangeness of the familiar world we live in and entertain at the very same time.