CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATIONBy Annie Baker
Millennial Poison Theatre Company
Stage Manager/Lighting Designer—Alana Henry
Stage Manager/Sound Designer—Dylan Mobley
Reviewed Performance: 9/20/2019
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The play opens with five people lying on the ground in the dark, and we do not know why. I hate to say too much, because part of the fun at the beginning of this play is figuring out what is going on.
The set is minimal, and a whiteboard with assorted doodles initially tells us this is "Week 1," a number that increases as the action progresses. The cast is comprised of five people, led by Marty (Katie Toohil). The five experience transformative events during their time together. The characters are ordinary, relatable people undertaking a fascinating collective journey. The play is cleverly plotted so that the more we learn about what is going on and who these five people are, the more questions are presented about their motivations, interactions, past traumas, and future life path.
Toohil is the kind of actor who speaks volumes with her eyes, and she delivers much of the comic relief. She is perfect for this role. When a clueless group member says something racist, you can see Marty calculating a measured response that corrects without alienating. At the beginning, Marty's ultimate likeability is in question, as we glimpse control issues and potential boundary problems. Ultimately, she is revealed to be benevolent, thick-skinned, and effective. When a group exercise takes an unintended wrong turn, hurting one of the five, Marty compassionately improvises something different—but without fully thinking it through first. The mistake hurts Marty more than anyone else, and Toohil has gravitas in her grief.
As the five learn about themselves and each other, their exercises result in sudden shifts from the emotional abyss into banalities. One moment they are crying, yelling, falling in love, and then are expected to return to normalcy in a flash. As the play unfolds, we see the characters engage in some of the same exercises, but the changes in them and their interactions with each other make the same thing different. One exercise all characters cycle through is to stand in front of the group and give a speech describing themselves, but as if they were one of the others. It is poignantly touching without crossing over into sap, and I found myself looking forward to the next installment.
Trace Hughes is phenomenal and thoroughly convincing as Schultz, a recently divorced carpenter. His character's shy awkwardness is so intense, I was rooting for him to get his next word out. Schultz's sometimes strange behavior is explained at the end.
Joan Milburn also convinces as the beautiful Theresa. Theresa frequently preens before the virtual mirror that the audience is looking through, and at first Theresa comes off as amusingly vapid, as for example explaining that "hooping" is the proper term for playing with a hula hoop. Ultimately, as with the others, our sympathies are with her. The part demands tears, and Milburn delivers.
Another powerful, tearful scene is between Marty and her husband James, played adroitly by a soulful Shae Hardwick. He is unselfconsciously earnest in his character's weakness, referencing a "very minor infidelity" in his past without irony, but the audience knows "minor infidelity" is an oxymoron here.
Hannah Fuller is appropriately cute as Lauren, a mysterious teenager who comes out of her shell in increments. She delivers the funniest turn before the virtual mirror, dancing as if no one is watching. At the end, we are happy to see the woman that Lauren becomes.
The sound quality is good, and the lighting was effective in cueing the frequent lapses in time. I had never been to Core Theatre before, and I have to give kudos to the extra comfortable seating. Access is convenient, and the funky lobby sets a fun mood.
I wish this production had a longer run, because the play is intriguing and the cast is first rate. If you can make time this weekend, I highly recommend not missing these fresh new faces on the DFW theater scene.
Millennial Poison Theatre Company
The Core Theatre
518 West Arapaho Road
Richardson, TX 75080
September 19 through 22, 2019,
8:00 p.m. on Saturday, 21, and 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, 22.