‘Circle Mirror’ utilizes intimate space to convey deep emotion

The minimalism of ‘Circle Mirror Transformation’ exhibited extraordinary acting and directing talent. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Golding.
The minimalism of ‘Circle Mirror Transformation’ exhibited extraordinary acting and directing talent. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Golding.

Last weekend’s production of the play Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker, directed by Matthew Conway ’15, was a textbook example of space, emotion and action in a black box theater. From the acting to the direction and everything in between, the performance was spectacular, moving more than one theatergoer to tears.

Connor Lawhorn ’16 proved that his acting chops go beyond the world of his recent role as Hamlet in his believable rendition of hasty love. He embodied the character Schultz, who falls for Theresa immediately. This quick drama is balanced by the presence of character James, played by Jackson Zerkle ’17, who takes a longer, less verbal route to discovering his emotions for Theresa, highlighting Zerkle’s strengths as an actor. Of course, Madeline Seidman ’17 also deserves a fair amount of credit for her quirky role as Theresa.

The intimate setting of the Director’s Studio allowed the audience to fully experience the subtle changes in each cast member’s face, making the small ’62 Center stage feel as intimate and revealing as the Shirley, Vt., Community Center where all of the play’s action takes place. This became especially important during scenes with Lawhorn and Seidman in which their awkwardness, love and eventual heartbreak felt clear and natural over the course of the play.

Elena Faverio ’15, through her soothing voice and calm demeanor, hit all of the right notes as Marty in a performance counterbalanced by some of the most intense moments in the play, when that cool demeanor broke. Faverio also utilized her characterization to convey a convincing motherly tone to Lauren, played by Devyn Hebert ’17. Their relationship is one I would have liked to see explored more fully, but I believe that is the fault of the script and not of the direction or acting, although it really is difficult to fault the playwright in any other way.

Hebert did a fantastic job of making the most out of her character’s limited backstory. She utilized Lauren’s fuzzy, guarded history to guide her actions in everything from being a baseball glove to catching Theresa and Schultz making out in one of the most comical scenes of the play.

If ever there was a lesson in the art of empty space in theater, this play was that, as Conway and the actors utilized silences effectively to communicate volumes. Although the silences were oftentimes interrupted by ambient noises, either by loud crowds in the hallway of the ’62 Center or even by fireworks on Friday night, those minor interruptions were flukes, taking nothing away from the artistry of the performance.

Zerkle and Lawhorn, who appeared to be perhaps the masters of silence on the stage, continued their usual gifts of using close spaces to convey large emotions with their distinctive facial expressions and the signature mannerisms of their voices. Unlike Zerkle and Lawhorn, who have proven their mastery of silence in past performances and readings that I have seen, Seidman surprised me with her facial reactions, and she seemed to be on the verge of real tears at emotional turning points throughout the performance.

Of course, everything played  through the direction of Conway, who was also the main designer for the performance. His use of lights and sounds to indicate the passage of an hour, a week or a decade created a convincing illusion that allowed the actors’ individual skills to shine through.

Overall, the performance went above and beyond the already huge expectations I had for a play comprised of perhaps the most loaded all-star cast that I’ve seen at the College in my brief time so far. All of these individual performances served to accentuate the direction of Conway and create a truly stunning performance. If Cap & Bells can keep up this kind of work, then the spring season is shaping up to be a truly spectacular one.