March 11, 2011

KC Stage

Acting 101
by Greg Boyle

Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker is the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s current production. That apparently nonsensical title refers to the names of various exercises performed at beginning acting classes, where the action of this play takes place. It is set in a small town in Vermont, far from the maddening crowd of the theatre scene of New York.

The stage setting by Meghan Rahan perfectly captures the reality of a multi-purpose room in a community center. We can visualize any number of activities that might take place there. There is a dance class, as one wall is entirely mirrored, with a barre. The floor is bare polished wood, and nothing else adorns the walls. There is only one door, which we can imagine opening to the main reception desk.

Kim Staufffer and Tom Aulino in Circle Mirror Transformation. (photo by Don Ipock)

This bare-bones set is the ideal backdrop for a play, which is sparse in every other sense. The costumes are simple and up to date, the props are minimal, and there are no sound or light cues besides the sign that flashes letting us know that another weekly session is about to begin.

In addition, very little character development takes place onstage. Most of the stage action consists of the simplistic theatre games that baffle every newcomer to stage training. We repeatedly witness the group lying on the floor, counting; retelling or reenacting other people’s personal stories from memory; becoming an inanimate object. We witness their frustrations, as no tyro understands how these exercises relate to their ultimate goal of acting greatness.

As an audience this simplistic approach gives us a fresh platform to observe people in transition, people who only need a nudge to experience a transformation, and that’s always interesting.

Theater games strive to teach actors to shed their reserves and inhibitions, and to trust their instincts. Minus the blocks and following their guts, actors have an opportunity to discover deep truths in themselves that help them relate to the situations their roles will present them. The apparent absurdity, vapidity and repetition of the exercises make for some fine comic moments. The soul-searching required by the acting class stimulates the offstage transformations that change the characters’ lives. We find out about them during class time as the semester progresses.

We see the characters as they meet during the course of a six-week course. We meet the teacher, played by Lee Roy Rogers, who, as it later becomes obvious, has only previously taught children. Her lady-loving husband, played by local stalwart Mark Robbins, probably only signed up for the class so there would be enough students for the community center to book it.

Also present is the recently divorced and lonely bachelor, played by Tom Aulino. Kim Stauffer essays a needy refugee from the New York scene, and a self-absorbed, introverted teenager by played Izzie Baldwin. All actors do a nice job of embodying their various characters.

Circle Mirror Transformation is presented without intermission through its 90-minute length. This keeps the story flowing and the production doesn’t drag at all. The play is presented at the Copaken Theatre in the H&R Block Building at 13th and Walnut, and runs through March 20. For reservations, call the box office at 816-235-2700, or go online at www.kcrep.org.

Greg Boyle can be contacted at gbboyle@kc.rr.com.