Although it’s about a group of people taking a drama class, “Circle Mirror Transformation,” opening Friday (Feb. 5) at Olympia Little Theater, is anything but theatrical.
“There are so many human moments,” said director Hannah Eklund. “It doesn’t come across like you’re watching people act. It feels like you’re just getting a glimpse into these normal people’s lives.”
Those normal people are a handful of small-town Vermonters who signed up for a six-week adult-education class, taught by a woman called Marty. The students — including Marty’s husband — don’t do “real acting,” as one character puts it. Rather, they play theater games that reveal and change their lives.
“It should feel like you just happened by a community center and peeked in the window,” said Meghan Goodman, who plays Marty. “It’s not a performance going on for you. There will be lots of times where you’re seeing the backs of people’s heads.”
Given the theater’s three-quarter stage, some audience members will see different characters’ facial expressions — and thus a slightly different play — than others.
There are so many human moments. It doesn’t come across like you’re watching people act. It feels like you’re just getting a glimpse into these normal people’s lives.
Director Hannah Eklund
And it’s not just the staging that distinguishes Annie Baker’s 2009 play from theater as usual. There’s the dialogue, which includes “umms,” “wells” and plenty of pauses.
“My impression is that sometimes the audience will think, ‘Oh, my gosh, they’ve forgotten their lines,’ ” said Goodman, who will be familiar to theatergoers from roles with Olympia Little Theatre, Olympia Family Theater and Theater Artists Olympia. “There are lots of times when nobody says anything or we look at each other like we’re confused. The play is supposed to be awkward. There’s a lot of nonverbal communication.”
Yes, it’s different. The difference attracted the attention of New York critics and is perhaps even more glaring at Olympia Little Theatre, where farces are an audience favorite.
That difference helped the play earn critical raves and an Obie Award for Best New American Play. Baker went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for 2013’s “The Flick,” another natural, intimate and slow-paced play about ordinary lives.
“For lovers of … the moment-by-moment revelation of the essence of a human character through scripted (or suggested) movement and speech, Ms. Baker’s play is an absolute feast,” New York Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote in a review of the original Off-Broadway production.
He called the play “small, quirky, immensely lovable,” sounding more like the delighted owner of a new puppy than a New York critic.
Eklund, making her community theater directorial debut with “Circle,” has fallen prey to its charms.
“It’s a beautiful story about the power that everybody has inside themselves to be able to better their lives,” she said. “Sometimes, it takes somebody else believing in you to do that, and all the characters do that with each other.”
Circle Mirror Transformation
What: Olympia Little Theatre presents Annie Baker’s Obie winner about a group of people whose lives are illuminated and affected by games they play in a weekly drama class.
When: 7:55 p.m. Friday and Saturday, plus Feb. 11-13 and 18-20, with matinees at 1:55 p.m. Feb. 14 and 21.
Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia.
Tickets: $11-$15, with a $2 discount for students; available at Yenney Music and online.
Information: 360-786-9484, olympialittletheatre.org.
Also: The play will be performed at 7:55 Feb. 16 as a benefit for the South Sound Estuary Association. Tickets are $15. 360-915-0773, firstname.lastname@example.org or tinyurl.com/goacnww.