Art is a metaphor for life, and art is life, and so on. All those time-honored statements are true, but Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation deftly sidesteps cliché to provide a terrifically entertaining tale of the cathartic power of the arts.
The one-act comedy follows five characters participating in a summer adult-theater class at a small-town Vermont community center taught by middle-age hippie Marty (Colleen Baum). Her husband, James (Morgan Lund), appears to be along for the ride mostly to support her; Schultz (Michael Todd Behrens), a recently divorced carpenter, is looking to shake up his life; Theresa (Alexandra Harbold), has just relocated after an up-and-down attempt at a professional acting career in New York; and Lauren (Shelby Anderson) is a teenager trying to prep for her big audition for a school production of West Side Story.
The narrative spans the six weeks of the class, blacking out occasionally between the sometimes absurd-seeming theatrical exercises to which Marty subjects her students. Baker builds into those exercises moments that allow us to know quite a bit about these characters, and the terrific cast members commit themselves fully both to the emotions and to the occasional goofiness.
That’s a tricky act to pull off, but Circle Mirror Transformation captures the way artists discover themselves through their work, as well as the connections that make collaborative art unique. Even as it considers the way process can be more valuable than product, it offers an audience one thoroughly engaging product.