"Theater at its best.
Don't miss it!"
-- Jim Donick, Northern Dutchess News
Tangent Theatre hits it out of the park with Circle Mirror Transformation
Tangent Theatre, at the northern border of the county, has hit another home run.Their current production of the 2010 hot Off-Broadway hit, “Circle Mirror Transformation” by Annie Baker, is the stuff theatergoers’ dreams are made of. We are told the script was named one of the Top 10 plays of 2009-10 by The New York Times, The New Yorker and Time Out New York. That’s a reasonable recommendation, one might think, and good reason to see it.
Beyond the script, the troupe also brings a marvelous and well-credentialed cast to the production. Of the five actors on the stage, four are members of Actors Equity and the fifth holds her own with the professionals as if she had been working on stage in New York for most of her life. “Circle Mirror Transformation” won a couple of Obies in New York in 2010 including Best New American Play for the author. The entire New York cast was also presented with an Obie as Best Ensemble.
The mission statement of the Tangent Theatre Company suggests that they focus on scripts that are all about character development. The resulting choices are often
what we might think of as “actor’s plays,” the sort of thing that actors can sink their teeth into. Thus what we always get at their productions is a chance to watch actors plying
their craft in a broad range of sometimes breathtaking characterizations and situations.
The background story is simple. We are offered a view of five people taking part i a six-week summer vacation drama workshop in the town of Shirley, Vermont. The
exercises they use to expand their acting capabilities are sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, and once or twice seem better matched to a teenage girls’ slumber
party. Most importantly, though, they are the framework for giving us a glimpse into these five lives as they slowly come to bare their souls. Early on, one doesn’t necessarily
see that coming. Five different individuals wander into the stage looking anything but special. As some point in the production, though, the awareness strikes that we
actually KNOW these people. It’s at that point we have discovered what elevates “Circle Mirror Transformation” far above a simple vehicle for actors to demonstrate their skills.
Jill Van Note is an energetic and bouncy sort of Marty, the teacher of the six-week drama class. She is an aging, vaguely unreconstructed flower child of the Seventies
living in Vermont with her husband, a college professor. She is running the local community center and teaching programs from arts and crafts and children’s workshops
to getting to teach this workshop for the first time. One can imagine her leading a reverent chorus of “Kumbaya” around a campfire someplace in Vermont and expecting the experience to be meaningful.
Summer Corrie plays a young woman, Theresa, recently arrived in Vermont from New York. Corrie is the only one of the cast not a member of Actors Equity but, watching
her performance, one would never guess that to be the case. She is marvelous as a most convincing self-absorbed creature of the Nineties. She always walks onto the stage with a large hula hoop over her shoulder. It would seem she is dedicated to “hooping,” though why that might be the case was lost on us. It’s a vapid sort of pastime, though that suits her character. She says she had been an actress in New York, hoping to touch people’s live through art. She gave that up to move to Vermont and actually touch people’s lives in their day-to-day world. In truth, she had experienced a nasty breakup with a boyfriend. She is
now working for a certificate in acupressure and “Rolfing” or some such New Age silliness. She’s got a winning smile and a need to be loved.
Marty’s husband, James, is played by Lorenzo Scott. James at first appears a happy but self-conscious sort of fellow who may be in the class primarily to support
his wife. He doesn’t initially seem at all comfortable in this situation. It turns out that he has his own set of demons to deal with and a fair bit more complexity than his
initial happy smile might suggest. The last two characters are Lauren and Schultz. Lauren, played by Amie Tedesco,
is a 16-year-old high school student taking the class in hopes of improving her chances at getting the lead in an upcoming school production of “West Side Story.” She’s got “issues” at home with an abusive father and an angry mother. Ms. Tedesco is an Equity actor and may be well past the age of 16, but at least for this production she takes on that persona perfectly. She even manages that wonderful “I don’t have to look at you when you are talking to me” behavior that is often the trademark of the adolescent.
Schultz, at least in this production, is very much the most sympathetic of the characters. He’s played by Tangent’s creative director, Michael Rhodes. Schultz is a native Vermonter. A carpenter who views that work as his art, he has recently divorced and his still carrying a torch for
his ex-wife. In this production, Rhodes reprises the role that he played the first time we saw this show, some five years ago, in the Half Moon Theatre production in
Poughkeepsie. We understand this to be one of his favorite roles and can understan that feeling. It’s a meaty one. Rhodes makes Schultz’ emotional development natural enough that one feels as if one has known Schultz for a very long time. He represents a part of communities we might all identify with from our own lives. In the end, Schultz walks off the stage a survivor. This cast is a most satisfying ensemble. More than just five characters taking a
summer acting class for the fun of it or to meet other people, they give us an outstanding display of the actor’s craft and a view into the depth of life’s complexities hiding within the ordinary lives of otherwise unremarkable people.
Direction by Melisa Annis is impressive. She makes sure that all of the pieces of the production fit together perfectly, whether it is the multiple postings on the
community center’s bulletin board or in the various side-interactions going on among the rest of the cast while our attention is primarily on only one or two of them. For two hours in that space we feel that we are seeing less of a “show” than watching the development of an acting workshop and its participants taking place in a community
center in a little town in Vermont.
That impression is theater at its best. It’s probably purely coincidental that the Tangent Company’s Carpenter Shop
Theater is located at 60 Broadway in Tivoli. Tivoli is likely about as “Off Broadway” as anyone in Manhattan might imagine but, with this production of “Circle Mirror
Transformation,” Tangent proves their address is singularly appropriate. Tangent’s production of “Circle Mirror Transformation” is a keeper. Don’t miss it.
"First rate." -- Darrah Cloud & David Simpatico
The Poughkeepsie Journal
Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” presented by the Tangent Theatre in Tivoli, is a play about four people who take an acting class in the small town of Shirley, Vermont. Using standard theatrical exercises as a metaphor for the constantly shifting reality of our lives, Baker allows the characters’ private subtext to bubble to the surface as they explore the unknown, and unexpected, via the conduit of improvisation.
As always, Tangent Theatre has produced a skillfully realized play, with adroit direction by Melisa Annis. A grid of hanging lights designed by Daisy Long imitates that overlit community center-type space with which many of us are familiar, where the class takes place. Set designer Jaclyn Meloni has transformed the intimate Carpenter Shop Theater into that exact space, too, slightly institutional, complete with the typical bulletin board and bargain basement floor lamps.
We, as audience members, sit in the room with the actors, observing the lives that reflect or speak to our own. It’s a very involving strategy and it puts us right in the middle of the changes the characters are going through in a way that surprises us by the end. We are in their faces, so to speak, just as much as they are in ours. We become, vicariously, part of the process, and witness to the work actors engage in as they develop their craft.
The two-hour play, presented without intermission, portrays the students in the class over six sessions. During each progressive class, their faults, issues and interpersonal dynamics are slowly revealed through the exercises their teacher has planned for them. The class is a random sampling, reflective of society: a teenaged girl, two older men, a young attractive woman. Their teacher, a middle-aged woman who has been married to one of the men, and who may or may not have had something going with the other at one time, keeps them in line. We get glimpses of life going on outside the class; our imagination is called upon to fill in the rest.
The acting here is first-rate. Artistic Director Michael Rhodes skillfully embodies the tension of his character’s unspoken life, and erupts in brief moments of frustration and desire. Jill van Note is wonderful as the careful and patient teacher whose own life is reflected in the work of some of her students, with whom she’s had relationships. Amie Tedesco is adorable as the quiet teenage witness to these dysfunctional adults, who learns more from them than any of them might want, and Lorenzo Scott and Summer Corrie are equally excellent, doing a lot with elliptically written roles.
It’s a microcosm of small town life as well as the actor’s journey, as subtle as grass growing. Or as icebergs floating in the vastness of the ocean; we see only the tips bursting through the water’s surface, while the vast majority of it hides underneath, undetected yet full of potential impact.
The last scene sums up the play: life will change and evolve many times, and each time it does, we think perhaps the past wasn’t real; that only the present counts. The night we saw it, it evoked thoughts of “Endgame,” Samuel Beckett’s epic play about four people existing in a bunker after the world has ended.
Annie Baker is a highly regarded and successful writer, having won a Pulitzer Prize for her recent play, “The Flick.” She is a voice of our times. How and what she addresses with that voice will thrill some of you and baffle the rest, yet it absolutely deserves your engagement, and your response.
We, at Two on the Aisle, think this is the perfect play to start a dialogue with readers of this column, in order to share and express comments, opinions, with sincerity and respect. We urge you to go see and support a terrific company of actors tackling a play that will have you talking long after the play is over. Go see this production and let us know.
Amie Tedesco as "Lauren"