Five close friends acting like strangers gather in a room and form a circle. They take a break. And then: collective breathing.
“One of the tenets of our acting class here at Pomona College is to take the collective breath together,” said Mark Diaz PO ’22, who stars as a divorced carpenter in the upcoming production of “Circle Mirror Transformation “. “We’re all breathing the same air and we’re all in the same space – it’s a really amazing feeling.”
Over the past two years, we have seen the collective breath become dangerous. Instead of community and liberation, the collective breath is now defined by exposure and disease.
Yet the upcoming production of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which will be presented at the Seaver Theater from October 7-10, marks a powerful transition to shared space and community.
“Circle Mirror Transformation” is an intimate piece about five strangers learning to act. Set in Vermont, the play tells the story of four New Englanders who enroll in a drama class at a community center. The cast of characters consists of an acting teacher, a divorced carpenter, a retired actress, a shy high school student, and the acting teacher’s husband.
Acting classes, taught by Marty, are weird. Marty asks his students to act like baseball gloves in one class and beds in another. They are instructed to count as a collective group without interruption. A husband gives a monologue like his wife. The students swap stories of meeting strangers on the subway and teach each other how to hula hoop. Someone falls in love.
“Circle Mirror Transformation” is an exercise in stillness: painfully long pauses, nervous breathing, deepest secrets written on scraps of paper.
The game is clunky and often uncomfortable, but that’s the point.
“I knew I wanted there to be agonizing silences,” playwright Annie Baker said in an interview. “I knew I wanted a doomed classy romance that left one character embarrassed and the other heartbroken. I knew I wanted the characters to deliver monologues like each other. … Eventually I realized that the fun of the piece is the fact that it’s confined to this drab, windowless little space.
While the characters start out as strangers, the Pomona students who play them are good friends. Four of the five actors started in the same basic acting class during their freshman year at Pomona. This poses a challenge: how do the actors reset themselves as strangers before each rehearsal?
“It’s pretty amazing how much we’ve all grown and changed, but I think we can all remember that first day when we all met in freshman year,” Mark said. “So every day when we walk in, we can kind of create that freshness.”
The characters are able to afford mirrors, reflections of themselves. In “Circle Mirror Transformation,” eye contact is painful but necessary two-way thinking, and artificial ice-breaking games reflect true bonding.
“There’s this really beautiful moment at the beginning and end of the show,” GiGi Buddie PO ’23, who plays Marty, said via Zoom of the same motion sequence used to open and close the show. “We did the last sequence of movements, and there was just this beautiful moment, at the end, where we all stand in a circle, and we can all make eye contact with each other and share this moment with each other. with the others.”
While recovering from the emotional and physical distance that separated us during the pandemic, there is something special about being able to witness small moments of connection in “Circle Mirror Transformation”: the way new friends orient their bodies towards each other, the incessant gaze of the quarrelsome, the silence between husband and wife betraying what their voices are not ready to say.
“It’s weird to tie in with quarantine because I’m sure that’s not what was intended when it was written in 2009,” said Tray Hammond PO ’22, who plays the husband of Marty, James. “But it’s cool to see how a show can transform and how we’ve transformed it.”
To see these connections form, break and reform in a space as small as a black box theater only enhances intimacy.
When asked to describe his character, Buddie offered a paradox.
“Login and logout,” Buddie said via Zoom. “Circle Mirror Transformation” bursts with paradoxes: actors who learn to act, strangers who love each other, lovers who are strangers.
Get rid of elaborate sets, lights, costumes, and a large cast, and we’re faced with the everyday pains and joys we’ve been missing for so long: connection and disconnection, communication and miscommunication. “Circle Mirror Transformation” is the right game at the right time.