Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
What a perfectly crafted and finely acted play!
I’m talking about the Know Theatre’s production of Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker, directed by Tim Gleason and featuring Jason Hill, Ilana Lieberman, Jessica Nogaret, Susan Stevens and Jason Walsh.
On Saturday (Feb. 9), Know fulfilled its mission of “lifting the quality of life for downtown Binghamton.” (Note: Opening night occurred during last Friday blizzard with only nine brave souls in the audience.)
Circle Mirror Transformation, which tells the tale of five would-be thespians taking an acting class in Shirley, Vt., received the 2010 Obie Award for Best New American Play. Know’s actors played the parts so realistically because acting classes undoubtedly were part and parcel of honing their craft before taking to the stage.
About acting classes, director Gleason says, “Some go out of curiosity or a way to socialize. All good and worthy reasons to attend, but what happens to all of us who go is much grander than any of these reasons. We become better people. A change takes place in those brave enough, yes, brave enough to walk through the door on week one.”
This “beautiful peek at humanity” introduced the audience to the earnest acting teacher Marty (Stevens), who faced up to molestation by her dad in childhood and recurring night terrors; to James (Hill), a middle-aged Lothario who flitted from wife to lover to wife and is about to lose Marty; to Theresa (Nogaret), who puts up with abusive and possessive boyfriends for fear of being alone; to Schultz (Walsh), who is coming to terms with a divorce and too eager to jump into another relationship, and Lauren (Lieberman), a sullen teenager coping with dysfunctional parents and perfectionistic tendencies.
Symbols – the circle and the mirror — abound in the play and are not subtle. The quintet gains self-knowledge doing exercises carried out in a circle and via penetrating glances into real mirrors placed strategically on stage.
As the story progresses from week one to week six and we witness their improvisation exercises, the cast members evolves from a group of strangers into a circle of friends. Everyone in the cast displayed the mark of really fine acting: There was never a moment when you thought that they’d memorized lines and were just reciting them. The dialogue was as natural as any conversation in your living room or around your kitchen table. And you felt their emotions – pain, disappointment, joy, loneliness — without any stretch of the imagination.
Hats off to artistic director Gleason, production manager Kat D’Andrea, stage manager Amanda Marsico and technical staff Pat Morrissey, Brian Nayor and Eileen Snyder and all those behind the scenes for doing their jobs in a totally unobtrusive manner, allowing the play and the actors to shine.
For anyone who hasn’t been to the Know Theatre, it’s located in an old Binghamton fire station at 74 Carroll St. Although hardly cozy, it does have comfortable seating in the theater, and a homely living room-style lobby with couches and tons of books to read while you’re waiting for the show to go on.
A word of warning: The theater is chilly, so dress warmly.
Circle Mirror Transformation continues 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 24. There also is a “Pay What You Can Night” at 8 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 14). For ticket information, call 724-4341, or visit http://www.knowtheatre.org.