“Circle Mirror Transformation” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ April 25, 2011


Actors Theatre, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

New plays often arrive here with much fanfare. Actors Theatre’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” Annie Baker’s 2009 off-Broadway show, earned a glowing New York Times review and won an OBIE Award for Best New American Play.

Set in a small town Vermont community center dance studio, it replicates a six week acting class with five residents. But the monotonous, ploddingly lethargic, and dully written script never goes anywhere and lacks none of the reputed wit or insight. “Circle Mirror Transformation” is one of the most boring plays I have ever sat through.

What happened? Some of the fault lies in Paul Barnes deadly slow local production that fails to spark any of the situations into anything interesting. The five member ensemble, many with impressive local credentials, deliver their bland characters with no special flair so these amazingly predictable people have nothing that makes audiences want to know, understand, or care about them.

The other fault is Baker’s play. A third-rate Times theater critic stringer jumped on the play’s bandwagon but her unconvincing review never justifies her positive reaction. These people and their class never surprises, grows, or changes. They play deadly dull theater games without any intensity, drive, or desire to understand their fellow classmates.

The play starts with the characters lying on the floor in silence. They are to count but aren’t allowed to step on each other. Every time two people shout a number simultaneously, the entire class must start over. Yes, this kind of training and discovery helps fledgling actors but it plays as slow torture for observers. Frustrated audience members uttered during this sequence that “the actors must have forgotten their lines.” Not the case, of course, but these theatergoers and many others grew edgy and restless leaving about half way into the two hour show that is presented without intermission.

It goes on and on as the class repeats this exercise interspersed with other equally dreary games like imagining different scenes, playing emotional moments using limited words, playing each other, and revealing their deepest secrets without ever addressing why these secrets are so concealed. One class member is an actor while another hopes to act one day. There’s the acting teacher’s dull-witted husband who lets his infidelities slip out during the revelations, while the other guy is a lonely, bored, but on-the-make divorcee. You don’t care about any of them. How this class and the theater games help these people better grapple with their life challenges is never established. I’m not naming any of the actors in this unfortunate piece as most have done much better work.

If you buy a ticket to “Circle Mirror Transformation,” you will be bored. “Circle Mirror Transformation” continues through May 8. For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or order tickets online at www.actorstheatrephx.org.

Grade: F


6 Responses to ““Circle Mirror Transformation” – Actors Theatre”

  1. Ron Glazier, Ph.D. said:

    Apr 29, 11 at 07:50

    I completely disagree with you on this play. First of all, I cannot believe that you didn’t find ANYTHING redeeming about this play; the actors were fantastic! I am skeptical of a critic who cannot say something positive about a show……I found the play funny and I also found myself caring about the characters; their stories, what happened to them in their past, and what was going to become of them after their acting class ended.

    Second, one of the major ideas behind this play is silence…Annie Baker was playing with “silence” because that is the one thing that makes just about everyone uncomfortable in this world. The silence is purposeful and intended to make the audience feel uncomfortable…..Obviously it made you feel VERY uncomfortable…..Too bad you have to take that out on the director and the actors in this show who worked extremely hard to put this production together.

  2. Feel the Same said:

    May 02, 11 at 10:16

    I COMPLETELY agree – I thought it was such a lame play NO ONE could pull it off.

    Unbelievable what gets considered “good” these days. Not a memorable moment/nanosecond of dialogue.

  3. Feel the Same said:

    May 02, 11 at 10:34

    no more to say

  4. yellow boat said:

    May 02, 11 at 10:37

    Stop this.

  5. mean things said:

    May 02, 11 at 10:39

    This was slow… slow… slow…

  6. Hal Greer said:

    May 22, 11 at 20:41

    Just saw the play in Michigan. Agree with review. So many missed opportunities in the script. The actors gave it their all, but they could not rescue it.