Thursday, November 21, 2013

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION Returns Tonight at Heartland Theatre

Heartland Theatre's Circle Mirror Transformation, the lovely, luminous little comedy by Annie Baker, finishes up its performance schedule this weekend, with shows tonight, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Pantagraph reviewer Patricia Stiller called the production, directed by Cyndee Brown, "refreshingly honest" as she noted "not caring is not an option" when it comes to the very real folks who populate Circle Mirror Transformation. "We hurt when they hurt, and cheer when they rally," Stiller wrote about the flawed, vulnerable characters portrayed by Julia Besch, Dean Brown, Cristen Monson, Cathy Sutliff and Aaron Thomas.

Besch, Brown, Monson and Thomas are portraying four regular people who take an Adult Drama class from an instructor named Marty, played by Sutliff, at a community center in Shirley, Vermont. Shirley is a fictional town created by Annie Baker and used in three of her plays, but it doesn't seem very different from Bloomington or Normal as seen in Circle Mirror Transformation. For these people, their weekly class functions almost as therapy, as they go through simple acting exercises that expose their dreams as well as their flaws, that reveal their individual personalities as well as forge a group identity. Finding yourself and finding each other is what Circle Mirror Transformation is all about.

Cristen Monson (center) performing an exercise in Circle Mirror Transformation
Baker is one of the hottest playwrights around, with awards and productions at every turn. Circle Mirror Transformation was chosen as one of the top ten plays of 2010 for the Best Plays Theater Yearbook and it became the second-most-performed play of the 2009-10 season. It's a perfect match for Heartland Theatre, both because Heartland's space is inside a community center much like the one in Shirley and because the theater has always been run by people like Marty, people who understand and appreciate the significance of theater education. Managing Artistic Director Mike Dobbins, who passed away in July, was one of those people, director Cyndee Brown is another, and sponsor D. Ann Jones is a third. The Young at Heartland program for senior actors that Jones helped guide for a time uses some of the same exercises you'll see in the play as they build their troupe.

And speaking of those exercises... Due to weather issues (and a decided lack of power during last Sunday's terrible storms), the Sunday performance and discussion afterwards were both canceled. But Cyndee Brown has volunteered to come back after this Sunday's matinee to illuminate the exercises in the play and talk a little about how theater games work. Brown plans this as an interactive experience for audience members who come for the talkback, and you'll want to be there if you've seen the show and had questions about Explosion Tag, When I Go to India or the Circle Mirror Transformation exercise on stage. If you haven't seen the show yet, it's even more imperative to get there for one of these last four performances, before the curtain falls on this beautiful little play that so eloquently demonstrates the sense of community and exploration that Heartland Theatre is all about.

Circle Mirror Transformation continues through Sunday, November 14, at Heartland Theatre in Normal. Performances are scheduled for tonight, tomorrow and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday afternoon at 2 pm. Click here for reservation information.

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