Friday, 16 September 2011

Reflections on when life changes: MTC's Circle Mirror Transformation

Circle Mirror Transformation: Deidre Rubenstein as a snake,
Roger Oakley as a bed, Kate Cole as an elm tree
Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation is a gentle play which slowly excavates the characters' lives from beneath the most deliberately false of facades - acting. In fact, it pokes gentle fun at the art of becoming someone else by setting the story in a community college in Vermont - far away from the bright lights of the New York stage and far away from what the young character of Lauren (Brigid Gallacher) thinks acting is about.

The danger in play that uses acting as a metaphor - and acting classes and exercises to lend weight to the material - is that it might feel a bit too "inside" for most audiences. Even theatre audiences, who are used to live theatre, might not be aware of these tricks of the trade - how actors learn to be present, learn to trust themselves and each other, how they learn to open up without exposing themselves.

And yet, this show sidesteps that problem quite effectively. Yes, there were definitely some knowing laughs in the audience (pick the actors and a writer who has attended enough rehearsals and participated in enough acting exercises to understand) but I think the characters other lives are deftly drawn in amongst the business of learning a craft.

What I adored most about this production is that on every level from script to performance to direction, things were very understated. There were no large dramatic moments, but a series of very effective smaller moments which - taken together - formed a very successful whole. Somehow, through these various exercises and classes, we do learn more about teacher, husband, divorcee, lapsed (professional) actress and teenage dreamer.

The cast is excellent, with Deidre Rubenstein and Kate Cole as standouts.

*

The ending of Circle Mirror Transformation is also very effective. No spoilers here. But it did get me to reflect on moments my life has changed - both recently and in the past. Sometimes it feels like so many things have happened to bring me to this point in life, but there are one or two moments that I know have had changed the course of my life - even if they felt small at the time.

Thinking particularly of my writing - and I had several teachers in high school that encouraged me to write creatively - the best decision I made early on was to not take up a place at University (in a generic Arts course) but to go to TAFE to study Professional Writing & Editing. It was there I got a taste for performance writing - for film, for theatre - as opposed to writing novels, which is what I expected to be doing as a creative pursuit. It seemed crazy, after University was instilled as the important next step after high school, to give away that place at Monash for a spot at Holmesglen. But I'm glad I did.

More recently, let's say almost twelve months ago exactly, I had a short play of mine chosen for production at Short & Sweet Melbourne. I'd had another piece performed at S&S Malaysia a couple of years before and was involved with a couple of groups that slowly helped me with my writing and networking, but getting into S&S Melbourne last year introduced me to a couple of people who have been a big influence on me this year.

Ephiny Gale directed "The Fidelity Act" and cast Richard Di Gregorio in it and, even as S&S continued, Richard and I began turning over ideas for a one man show he was to star in. Nearly twelve months later and we are a week away from opening Richard Di Gregorio: On Time (produced by Ephiny Gale).

Now my involvement with the Cold Reading Series last year has led to other major connections this year, that's true - but my S&S involvement certainly cemented a quick connection with Christine Husband and Renee Palmer when I met them at CRS this year. And that has led to Three Women, which will premiere in February 2012.

Theatre is - as is most drama - about big dramatic moments. But sometimes, it's little things, small decisions or fateful meetings, that turn out to have a huge effect on our lives. Circle Mirror Transformation finds a way to make small moments lifechanging.

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