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Theater Review: Obie Award-Winning 'Circle Mirror Transformation' Disappoints

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Linda Gehringer, Marin Hinkle, Brian Kerwin, Lily Holleman and Arye Gross in "Circle Mirror Transformation" at South Coast Repertory. Photo by Ben Horak/SCR.
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In reviewing, expectations are a big deal. Going into a show with expectations set either too high or too low can ultimately affect one's opinion. For a critic, it's a work hazard, and I try to be cognizant of keeping my expectations in check. However, when a play is being promoted as the winner of "Best New American Play" by the Obie voters, one does hope that perhaps it will be something special. Which leads to me saying that playwright Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation, currently in its West Coast premiere at South Coast Repertory, is pleasant but unfortunately disappointing.

Marty (Linda Gehringer) is running her first "creative drama" class for a local Vermont community center, an endeavor that features theatre games instead of working on plays. Her students include the just-divorced Schultz (Arye Gross), actress Theresa (Marin Hinkle), who's fled New York for the comfort of small town life, withdrawn teen Lauren (Lily Holleman) and Marty's husband, James (Brian Kerwin), who's basically there just to be supportive. Over the course of several weeks, the group gets closer and exchanges secrets, and the class changes some of their lives, but not in ways that they might expect.