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Circle Mirror Transformation

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Circle Mirror Transformation is not only the title of Annie Baker's Obie Award-winning play--now in its west coast premiere on South Coast Repertory's Julianne Argyros Stage, through January 30; Circle Mirror Transformation is also the name of an actual acting class exercise wherein participants form a circle, as one member of the spherical configuration models a movement. Soon the next person takes that movement and changes (transforms) it into another movement, and so on, until everyone in the entire circle has gone through and helped create a series of rhythms, gesticulations, and, accompanying sounds.

The purported purpose of this and other such acting academy activities is to develop rapport within an ensemble of performers and to un-trap actors from heady self-consciousness, while delivering them into their bodies, which, after all, is the actor's sole instrument.

What's intriguing about the structure of Baker's Mirror - under the fortifying direction of Sam Gold - is that the actors onstage are allowed to truly practice these aforementioned theater games right in front of the audience. Because they are designed to manufacture increased awareness and authenticity in the actor, the exercises are accompanied with an air of spontaneity and daring that saturates the proceedings, making us feel that anything could happen here.

The action takes place in fictional Shirley, Vermont. It's summertime, and an adult acting class is under-way. The setting is a windowless, wooden-floored dance studio, housed in a community center (scenic design by David Zinn). Five characters are reclined on the hardwood as the scenario begins. They count slowly one at a time, finding their rhythms. But quickly this warm-up evolves into an ever more demanding set of emotionally taxing exercises. Revelations are made, attractions grow, insights are gained, but at a cost. Amazingly, this simple "acting class" set-up - so under explored as a dramatic conceit - makes for a taut and amusing script and staging.

Recently author Baker remarked to the Los Angeles Times, "I didn't really believe Circle Mirror would find an audience...It's an elliptical fragment play with a lot of offstage action and silence." That's a point to be well taken: Circle Mirror is fragmented to the point of being nearly ephemeral. Nonetheless, there is a freshness and vitality to the mise en scene that makes Circle Mirror uniquely theatrical.

Of course, much tribute goes to the actors for providing many meaningful moments of vulnerability and understanding. Linda Gehringer plays Marty, the free-spirited, flower child-of-a-drama teacher. She's open-minded, open-hearted, and overly emotive--not always an optimum combination of traits. But Gehringer portrays them truthfully and to full effect.

As Theresa, Marin Hinkle is fresh faced and genuine, while Lily Holleman plays the sullen adolescent, Lauren, with ever growing charm and complexity.

Arye Gross is pathetically comical as sad-sack Shultz, a divorced carpenter, and a fool for love. His awkward hesitations and halting conversational pace play as if he were a man off the street; Gross makes Shultz seem both wholly natural and slightly annoying.

Rounding-out this five character cast is Brian Kerwin as James. Lusty and frustrated, James is married to Marty. Kerwin makes James's reluctance to give-over to the actorly processes appear palpable.

Within a simple framework (in an hour and fifty minutes) and with the door wide-opened to spontaneity, Baker's script delivers, under Gold's undecidedly determined direction, what the audience wants -but doesn't necessarily expect. Baker throws the pieces of this dramatic puzzle to the audience. It's up to us theatergoers to put the parts of Circle Mirror in place. What we gain is a surprising reflection of life.

"Circle Mirror Transformation" continues at South Coast Repertory--655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa--through January 30. Show times are at 7:45 PM Tuesdays-Sundays. Matinees are at 2 PM Saturdays and Sundays. For reservations, dial (714)708 - 5555. For further information, visit www.scr.org.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.