After years of working to become professional actors, The Kitchen Theatre’s newest cast must play amateurs — learning to act.
“Circle Mirror Transformation” follows four students and their instructor over the course of six weeks as they experiment with seemingly futile games and exercises at a community arts center in Shirley, an imaginary town in rural Vermont. As the students progress, the class affects their lives as much as their experiences shape it.
Marty (Camilla Schade) finally has the opportunity to teach an adult creative drama class. Her husband James, played by Ithaca College theater arts professor Greg Bostwick, enrolls. Her other students include Theresa (Jennifer Herzog), a burned-out actress who recently relocated from New York City, Lauren (Alison Scaramella), a teenager who wants to be a star — and maybe a veterinarian — and Schultz (Dean Robinson), a charmingly awkward divorcé. Through weekly meetings, Theresa and Schultz date, Marty bonds with Lauren, and James becomes interested in Theresa.
The play is directed by Norm Johnson, associate professor of theater arts at the college, with senior Lucy Gram, drama and English double major, as his assistant. The duo’s on-stage creation is as challenging as anyone’s first acting class and just as fun. From the vents and illuminated exit sign on the charming peach-colored walls to the handwritten note with instructions posted above the fader lights, David Arsenault’s reserved set reflects the tone of the story: realistic yet mysterious.
Scripted improvisation among Marty’s students works as the paused moments of silence seem completely spontaneous. The dynamic between the students show Johnson’s clear direction and small touches, as with each character’s distinct handshake that shows their level of confidence and personality on the first day of class.
James is Marty’s loving but cautious husband. While he deals with the conflict of having a good wife versus an acting coach, Bostwick remains consistent as the dedicated spouse. He stays faithful, even when he sees an opportunity to become involved with Theresa, one of the more tantalizing parts in the play’s second half.
Theresa is meant to be a vulnerable aging talent who wants to find herself. But Herzog’s effort to be so enthusiastic in her voice and motions makes her seem insincere, and her actual appearance is too youthful for a woman in her late 30s. But her sensuality salvages the character. Theresa’s flirtatious exchanges with Schultz, like when she flips her hair at him, are charming even with their difference in age.
As Schultz, the driving force of the first half of the production, Robinson is a funny and touchingly uncomfortable divorcé. While the angst toward his former wife and new life does not always show, his uncomfortable physicality and vocal delivery complement his poignant silences. The audience smiles and giggles when he excitedly kicks his feet as he receives a sexual favor from Theresa.
Despite its underdevelopment in the script, Scaramella does well in her role as Lauren. As an opinionated high school student, she provides the audience with a base from which to judge the other characters. The role is important for keeping a play about mostly adult issues relevant to a younger population, especially with her anxiety about the upcoming school theater production.
“Circle Mirror” appeals to thespians and the uninitiated equally. For someone with experience with improvisation exercises, it recalls memories. For everyone else, the play shows the gravity of small experiences. Just sitting in a circle can completely change a life.
The “Circle Mirror Transformation” will play at 7:30 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. tomorrow and Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday at The Kitchen Theatre.