Art imitates life imitates art, and there have been plays about actors, acting troupes and backstage drama, using them metaphorically as mirrors for real life, at least as far as back as Hamlet setting up his play-within-a-play as “the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” and Jaques proclaiming that “All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players.” A Chorus Line took the meta to a new level by having aspiring chorus girls and boys pour their hearts out about their childhood traumas as part of their audition, broaching taboo topics that hadn’t previously been regarded as fit subject matter for stage musicals. Ah, how theater has changed in the ensuing four decades!
In Circle Mirror Transformation, which Performing Arts of Woodstock (PAW) will be staging to kick off its 51st season beginning this Friday, playwright Annie Baker takes us further back into the formative processes of theater, showing what goes on in an acting class – in this case, a Stanislavsky Method acting class taught in an adult education program at a community center in a mythical Vermont town by a not particularly well-trained or perceptive teacher. She’s more interested in using acting exercises, like the one in the title, to prod her students into digging down into their psyches, unearthing and sharing their secrets, than in equipping them with actual acting skills. All the action takes place in the classroom over the course of a semester, and the dramatic tension evolves out of what the students find out about themselves and each other through these theater games – and what they then decide to do with that transformative information.
Circle Mirror Transformation copped the Obie Award for Best New American Play when it opened Off-Broadway in 2009, and community theater companies all over the country have taken it to their hearts ever since. If you have ever taken an acting class, or know someone who aspires to be an actor, this play will really resonate with you. Even if not, you’ll still find it entertaining and thought-provoking – “merely players” as we all may be at heart, no matter what we do for a living. Trish Hawkins directs the PAW production, which stars Tesa Flores, Chris Grady, Molly Parker Myers, David Rose and Julie Szabo.
The play will be performed at Mountain View Studio in Woodstock for three weekends. Friday and Saturday evening performances begin at 8 p.m. on November 28 and 29, December 5, 6, 12 and 13, with Sunday matinées at 3 p.m. on December 7 and 14. Tickets cost $20 general admission, $15 for seniors and students. For reservations call (845) 679-7900 or visit https://performingartsofwoodstock.org.
Performing Arts of Woodstock’s Circle Mirror Transformation, Friday/Saturday, November 28/29, December 5/6, 12/13, 8 p.m., Sunday, December 7 & 14, 3 p.m., $20/$15, (845) 679-7900, https://performingartsofwoodstock.org.