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The Carletonian

ETB show: well-acted, yet cheesy premise

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-a1ac7776-5456-5c64-ceaa-ab7fafbd2a3e">If you’re looking for a way to escape the realities of life, why not go to an acting class and take on another, imaginary person’s problems and passions? That’s the premise of Circle Mirror Transformation, ETB’s production running this weekend in Little Nourse. The original script by Annie Baker, directed by Alexa Blasnek ’19 and Ceci Hart ’19, is set in a community education class where five people come together to experiment in acting.

If you’re not a fan of acting exercises such as walking around in a room while you vary your speed or using the bodies of your fellow actors to represent your childhood bedroom, don’t be discouraged from seeing this play. There are many scenes of acting practices, but there are also many moments that happen before classes or during breaks that give insight into the characters. And even if you aren’t a fan of acting games, by paying attention to the characters you find moments in which we can understand them. The way the tension ebbed and flowed throughout the acting exercise that frames the play on both ends (which consists of lying down and counting to ten as a group without being able to see the other people), allows you to check in with the characters as the play progresses. Counting to ten is an easy thing to do — much harder is to imbue the numbers with the reservations, hostilities, and hopes of the characters, a feat accomplished by the actors in this play.

While the characters all come to acting class to explore acting practices, they all end up exploring themselves. Although this premise is cheesy (a play about actors coming to acting class and finding out their deepest secrets, desires, failures, and helping each other see themselves in a new light seems trying too hard to be meta to me), it had some normalcy that I needed on Thursday night. To see people grappling with intimate relationships, hopes, and disappointments let me breathe a little bit easier, and I was impressed by the actors’ ability to heighten the humanity of each of the characters.

Adam Berkebile’s ’19 portrayal of Schultz was particularly powerful. Schultz, a recently divorced carpenter, is awkward, oh-so earnest, and endearing. Yet while Schultz won me over with his awkward silences and utter joy, he also unnerved me with his quiet fury. The range in emotions of Schultz was appropriate and moving, recognizing the complexity in a character that could be played off as a loser and downtrodden. His delusional hope and belief in love was endearing, but the undertone of anger and fear of abandonment made for a striking performance.

The other characters didn’t disappoint either. Lauren Goboff ’19 plays acting class instructor Marty who has an encouraging spirit and relentless energy. I couldn’t quite pin down what was driving her character throughout the play, but it kept me intrigued.  James, Marty’s husband, was played by Matthew Pruyne ’17, and the note I wrote to myself during intermission was “James seems nice but he has some bottled up problems too,” which I commend to Pruyne’s portrayal. Grace Betz ’20 played Theresa, a character who has a lot going on beneath the surface.  Finally, Hannah Rittman ’20 played Lauren, the only teen in the acting class among middle-aged people with a lot of baggage. Rittman had a grasp on Lauren’s transformation from resistant teen to open adult, and delivered the answer to my other intermission question: “What’s the deal with Lauren?” Circle Mirror Transformation had a strong cast that makes the show engaging and human.

Blasnek ’19 and Hart ’19 did not disappoint in providing an entertaining and reflective piece of art. Together with the actors, they surpassed the simple idea of actors having a meta moment in an acting class and provided a return to some humanity and struggle that make Circle Mirror Transformation a challenge and fun to watch. The play will run Friday at 6:30 PM and Saturday at 7:30 PM.

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