Living Room Theatre, in its sixth season, presents two wonderfully unusual plays this summer.
Circle Mirror Transformation
by Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker.
EXTENDED toAugust 19th!
Thurs. thru Sat. 17, 18 & 19th at 7:30 pm
and Sat. the 19th at 2pm
LRT's "Circle, is a sonnet for the heart"
Popular Annie Baker play thrives on North Bennington stage
review by Telly Halkias, Bennington Banner-Berkshire Eagle
There's one thing about Annie Baker plays that everyone attending should know: make sure to keep your eyes moving around the stage, particularly to the actors who are not speaking.
Most might think that's true of every theatre work, and to a degree, they would be correct. But in the case of Pulitzer winner Baker, the peripheral action is akin to the rhyming pattern, and meter, of a sonnet. You must tune your ears and hear the echo of the rhymes before you to feel the resonance of what you are about to hear.
In this way, Living Room Theatre's production of Obie-award winning "Circle Mirror Transformation," directed by Christopher McCann, reminded me of E.E. Cummings' sonnet of heartache, "goodby Betty, don't remember me."
As such, the play was a 95-minute lyrical flow from beginning to end of a six-week summer community acting class in the small town of Shirley, Vt. There, drama teacher Marty (Jacqueline Jacobus) puts her four students through their paces.
They include her husband, economics professor James (Allen McCullough), a carpenter, Schultz (Ken Forman) whose wife left him, an erstwhile actress and yoga aficionado Theresa (Lizzie King-Hall) who just moved to town months earlier, and Lauren (Oona Roche), a high school student from a tough family situation who dreams of acting and maybe even being a veterinarian.
The characters move through the summer as in Cummings' sonnet, with lives which intertwine in a rhyming pattern and meter slightly off center - not in the traditional way we learn about sonnets in school, but one which Baker knows how to craft so adeptly.
Jacobus, capably led the group, since we waited for her subtle, sometimes even surreal cues the entire play. A veteran of the stage in real life, it's clear she fit into the role of Marty like a hand in a warm glove in winter.
Likewise, LRT co-founder McCullough carried just the right amount of desire and isolation to know what his James wanted, but still to still feel trapped as well as forsaken, as if watching his life in a play, not living it in real time.
Forman returns to LRT in good form: nervous, unsure, ridden with angst, and wanting to be loved so badly he made us ache for him - and for our very own insecurities. He captured Schultz' simple hit-and-miss look at life; we winced with every one of his setbacks, flooding the theatre with empathy.
Newcomer Roche will have a promising acting career ahead if she chooses to pursue the dream her Lauren grappled with. The perfect antithesis to Marty's experience, Roche brought to bear a child's innocent view of life, but keen awareness of her surroundings. Keep your eyes on her throughout the play; her moral barometer is in full force.
Finally, King-Hall, who also returns to LRT and seems to have a growing audience following, made herself a paradox that had us both aloof and yearning to want more. Theresa's fixations and obsessions were both compelling yet annoying, her sensuality at once distasteful yet magnetic and seductive. It was impossible to ignore the permanence she brought to the group's one drifter.
LRT completes its successful sixth season, the second with two productions. We wonder if an upcoming season with three productions might be in the offing: until then, this is a regional theatre treat that can't get more intimate than it already is.
An important note: "Circle Mirror Transformation," previously billed as running through Aug. 12, has been extended through Aug. 19. This extra week of production is a gift to local fans of the stage. LRT's version of Annie Baker's lyricism is one that shouldn't be missed.
In Cummings' aforementioned sonnet, he closes with bittersweet lines only love can foist on us: "you, you exactly paled and curled/ with mystic lips take twilight where i know/ proving the Death that Love is so and so."
It's this pain that LRT's take on Baker's play makes us feel, and why you must go see it. It's a good hurt: as Marty's acting class moves through the Vermont summer, you, too, will be asked to come full circle to find the words that make your own sonnet rhyme, and thus look into your heart for that which you hold dear and sacred."
This intimate play (Obie Award for Best New Play) imagines a weekly community acting class in Vermont that forever changes the lives of its participants. A beautifully crafted drama both humorous and heartbreaking in unexpected ways.
"The play is an absolute feast. It traces the lives of a handful of small town Vermont residents who gather each week for an acting class taught at the local community center. By the play's end we seem to see to the very bottom of these souls, and feel how the artificial intimacy of the acting class has shaped their lives in substantial ways" The New York Times
August 9,10, 11 & 12- 17, 18 & 19 at 7:30 pm and Sunday August 13 & 19 at 2pm
The Carriage Barn at Park McCullough House
1 Park St , N. Bennington, VT 05257
Tickets 802-442-5322, email@example.com
Directed by LRT Founding Member Chris McCann,
with Allen McCullough, Lizzie King-Hall, Ken Forman, Jacquleine Jacobus and Oona Roche
The Bennington Banner writes:
Living Room Theatre's "Adam and Evie" speaks to love
Innovative play by Charles Mee opens in North Bennington
By Telly Halkias
NORTH BENNINGTON — When I saw Bennington Museum director Robert Wolterstorff in the crowd at Living Room Theatre's season opener this Thursday night, I knew the stars were aligning.
Just a week earlier, Wolterstorff, a noted art historian, had spoken to me for several articles I was writing on his institution's new ground-breaking exhibition, "Grandma Moses, American Modern," which examines echoes of Moses' methods in the approach of American Modernists.
This parallel was on my mind throughout the crisp 88 minutes LRT offered up to open its sixth season, a surreal production of Charles Mee's "Adam and Evie." The play is produced by Roger Cooper and directed, choreographed and designed by Randolyn Zinn.
The connection to Modernism seems fitting. Mee, a professor of theatre at Columbia University has long written plays at the forefront of visual as well as written innovation. His narrative flow is created the same way patches are put together on a quilt, and he is particularly adept at taking existing stories such as Greek plays and fusing them
"Adam and Evie" is about the human drive for love and everything that goes along with it: it surveys this passion from Adam and Eve through today. The story revels in social behavior ranging from the juvenile, sage, tear-jerking, quixotic, and carnal longings of dozens of characters who also mix in a healthy dose of humor.
The cast of 12 young attractive actors, recent graduates from Circle in the Square Theatre School, took the roles of Adam (Chase McIntosh) and Evie (Maranda Rust), and then were all sent through a time warp of the imagination and more characters than one can imagine.
A sampling of some roles played by the ensemble: Greek play narrator (Danielle Amendola), Tantalus (yes, from the myth, Matthew Boyd), Juliet (yes, Shakespeare's, Madison Coyle), Romeo (Holden Cox), a Chicken (yes, you heard that right, Matt Dallal), The Bride (Rena Gavigan), a Waiter (Olivia Hartshorn), a Casting Agent (Iris Holm), a Charioteer (Jay Reum), and a Violinist (Gaia Visnar).
These are just a few of the roles played by the above actors. There were about 4 times more overall, as one scene literally floated into the next. Director Zinn and husband and LRT co-founder Allen McCullough also had a dreamy dancing cameo.
Ms. Zinn had her charges primed and ready, whether in a tremendously hilarious casting call for Romeo and Juliet, or the over-the-top rendition of the myth of Tantalus, to the affair of a grand wedding.
The cast was able to make us laugh at well-timed moments: they danced with fluidity, and sung both gently and with authority. Zinn's choreography remains as good as LRT audiences have come to expect, and rightfully so given her long New York career in the industry.
A special nod must got to stage manager Sarabell Wrigley, who came to North Bennington from Los Angeles specifically to be a part of this production, her fourth season with LRT. Given the intimate staging and the pay-as-you-will ticket policy - a largesse which permeates the entire stage company — I can see why someone would want to work at LRT, let alone attend a play as an audience member.
But let's get back to my opening meditation on modern art and its connection to "Adam and Evie." There's no question a play by Charles Mee is not garden variety theatre. His work is known as innovative and visionary, partly because there just isn't a whole lot out there like it. These are not easy plays to write, produce, direct, or perform in.
As such, the chance to see this kind of quilt work of a funny, thoughtful, and quite sensual performance is rare indeed, and to see it in any kind of regional theater is almost unheard of. This, along with the superior acting of the young Thespians under Zinn's aegis, are excellent reasons to go see "Adam and Evie."
For all I had known of Mee's work, I had never seen it on stage, nor had I ever attended a show at LRT, even though many friends have been urging me to go for several years.
I'm glad I did. You will be, too.
"Adam and Evie" will run through July 14 at Living Room Theatre, Park-McCullough Carriage Barn, 1 Park St., North Bennington, Vt. Info: 802-442-5322 or lrtvt.org
Follow award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias on Twitter: @Telly Halkias