Wright State explores unconventional acting class in ‘Transformation’

Front to Back: Annika Whetstone (Theresa), Andrea Gutierrez (Lauren), Branden Fisher (Schultz), Mady McCabe (Marty) and Mikey Fried (James) in Wright State's production of "Circle Mirror Transformation."

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Front to Back: Annika Whetstone (Theresa), Andrea Gutierrez (Lauren), Branden Fisher (Schultz), Mady McCabe (Marty) and Mikey Fried (James) in Wright State's production of "Circle Mirror Transformation."

Participants in a six-week Vermont community center acting class dig deep with unconventional sensibilities in Annie Baker’s offbeat, 2009 Obie award-winning off-Broadway comedy “Circle Mirror Transformation,” continuing through Dec. 5 in the black box, downstairs Herbst Theatre at Wright State University.

Combined ShapeCaption
Left to Right: Mikey Fried (James), Mady McCabe (Marty), Branden Fisher (Schultz), Andrea Gutierrez (Lauren) and Annika Whetstone (Theresa) in Wright State's production of "Circle Mirror Transformation."

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Left to Right: Mikey Fried (James), Mady McCabe (Marty), Branden Fisher (Schultz), Andrea Gutierrez (Lauren) and Annika Whetstone (Theresa) in Wright State's production of "Circle Mirror Transformation."

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Left to Right: Mikey Fried (James), Mady McCabe (Marty), Branden Fisher (Schultz), Andrea Gutierrez (Lauren) and Annika Whetstone (Theresa) in Wright State's production of "Circle Mirror Transformation."

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Meticulously taught by the persistent yet tactful Marty (an excellently mature Mady McCabe inhabiting the role with great physicality), the class consists of a slightly eccentric bunch: Schultz (Branden Fisher), a recently divorced carpenter; Lauren (Andrea Gutierrez), a timid high schooler junior; Theresa (Annika Whetstone), a former actress; and Marty’s husband, James (Mikey Fried).

Instead of distributing a few familiar monologues from Shakespeare, Chekhov, Miller or Williams to dissect and recite, Marty carves her own path emphasizing a peculiar series of physical, vocal and memorization exercises. In her estimation, it’s more important to grasp the art of embodying a role, to completely become in tune with a character or assignment even when the task becomes frustrating.

Lauren: “What is the point of all this?”

Marty: “The point is to be totally present – not second-guess yourself”

These unique exercises, including role-playing, ultimately forces each classmate to go beyond the surface into a more expansive comprehension of language, subtext and symmetry. In fact, an odd game of emotional gibberish between Theresa and James evolves into a surprisingly thoughtful display of open and honest communication.

Baker, who wrote the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “The Flick,” is notably a 2017 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. She was awarded the grant for “mining the minutiae of how we speak, act and relate to one another and the absurdity and tragedy that result from the limitations of language.”

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Director Josh Aaron McCabe (a memorable Black Stache in WSU’s “Peter and the Starcatcher”) fluidly guides his commendable cast through Baker’s kooky intricacies. Many intimate moments arise natural, lived-in, unhurried and unpretentious. His staging of the final scene is particularly poignant.

Joe Deer, artistic director of WSU’s Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures, describes the play as a “beautifully crafted diorama, a Petri dish in which we see, with hilarious detail and clarity, the quiet sadness of a motley quintet.”

The New York Times proclaimed, “Annie Baker’s play is an absolute feast. ‘Circle Mirror Transformation’ is the kind of unheralded gem that sends people into the streets babbling and bright-eyed with the desire to spread the word. By the play’s end we seem to see to the very bottom of these souls, and feel how the artificial intimacy of the acting class has shaped their lives in substantial ways.”

“What we’re doing in this class is not about competition,” Marty says when the eager Schultz begins to feel dejected. Baker’s play is a reminder that it’s never too late to learn from each other even when vulnerabilities are exposed in the pursuit to grow, connect and transform.

HOW TO GO

What: “Circle Mirror Transformation”

Where: Downstairs Herbst Theatre of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Dayton

When: Through Dec. 5; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (No performances Thanksgiving weekend)

Cost: $15 adults; $10 seniors; $5 students

Tickets: Call 937-775-2500 or visit wright.edu/theatre

FYI: Audiences are required to wear masks and observe university health regulations.

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