Living Room Theatre's "Circle" is a sonnet for the heart

Popular Annie Baker play thrives on North Bennington stage

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NORTH BENNINGTON - 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, who teaches acting at the renowned Circle in the Square, 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. With Roger Cooper at the production helm, the company's continuity is well supported. 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.

In the end, McCann had his players ready for this show. 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.

"Circle Mirror Transformation," will run through Aug 19 at Living Room Theatre, Park-McCullough Historic House 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




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