The Gamm Theatre opens its 27th season, its 9th in the Pawtucket Amory Annex, with Circle Mirror Transformation, Annie Baker's 2007 multiple Obie-award winning play.
On the deserted island that is a tiny town in rural Vermont, a small group of people gather once a week at the local community center. They have joined an introduction to dramatic acting class which is led by Marty (Wendy Overly); who as head of the community center teaches any number of classes on a variety of subjects, every week.
Playwright Baker provides a sharply funny and engrossing look at motivation of this motley crew of would-be actors. What do each of them expect to gain in exchange for their money and time? Part acting class and part group therapy; these six weeks of breathing, movement and trust exercises peel away the public self of each member and provide a vehicle for Baker to authentically communicate history, tensions and expectations.
The shifts in each character are subtle - there is almost no plot. Director Rachel Walshe sets an unhurried pace, yet keeps the audience engaged - invested, actually - in what success looks like for each of the characters. Angst is not usually this compelling.
The production is beautifully cast. Wendy Overly and Jim O'Brien have a comfortable chemistry as long-married couple Marty and James. Karen Carpenter's Theresa is graceful, yet wounded. Normand Beauregard is positively magnetic as he embodies Schultz's brave attempt to move beyond a mid-life crisis. As Lauren, Amanda Ruggiero conveys an amazing restraint as her character journeys from indifferent youth to become Baker's existential prophet.
Circle Mirror Transformation plays at the The Gamm Theatre through October 9, 2011. Tickets range from $34 to $42 and can be purchased by phone at 401-723-4266, at the Box Office, located at 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, RI, or online at www.gammtheatre.org.
Photo: Wendy Overly Jim O'Brien, Amanda Ruggiero, Karen Carpenter and Normand Beauregard in Circle Mirror Transformation. Photo by Peter Goldberg; courtesy of The Gamm Theatre.