Okay, so I was SUPPOSED to see this show last Friday. I admit, I’m pretty behind schedule. It’s this stoopid cough! I’ve had it for, like, a week now and it won’t go away. I’m probably dying or something, not that you’d care. Sheesh. ANYways, I missed this show I wanted to see last Friday on account of I didn’t want to be that guy, hacking up a lung somewhere in the back rows. Only now, since the cough is still lingering, and because I’m kinda impatient when it comes to my theatre, I decided, yeah, okay, I’ll risk being that guy, because I’m sick of waiting. So I chugged some especially potent medicine (which made me so loopy earlier in the day I nearly went to bed at about 6pm instead of checking out a show), told my lungs to god-damned well behave themselves, fed Winston and headed out with high hopes.
My destination tonight was the GCTC at good ol’ Holland and Wellington, and the last show of the 2011-2012 season (and outgoing Artistic Director Lise-Ann Johnson’s final directorial contribution), Annie Baker’s CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION. A seemingly lighthearted comedy set in a small-town community drama class, and featuring a dream cast of Ottawa’s finest…
…I was pretty psyched going in to this one. The story takes place over a five-week acting course in Vermont, where our five protaganists slowly discover all of their deep-rooted secrets via the highly entertaining medium of intro level theatre games. Run by the kindly Marty (Mary Ellis), who has been pushing for the chance to teach this adult-level class, and has even dragged her husband James (John Koensgen) along as one of her first students. The others are Theresa (Sarah McVie), a former actress carrying a deceptive amount of baggage; recent divorcee Schultz (Andy Massingham), out of place and seemingly ready to crack at any moment; and moody Lauren (Catherine Rainville), a secretive teenager stomping and huffing about the place.
Now, CMT comes off at first like a fairly light, fluffy piece, and by most accounts, I’d say that’s fairly accurate. Happily, there ain’t a blessed thing wrong with that, and there’s plenty of darkness lying just beneath the surface of our hapless students’ lives to make things interesting. Using theatre games as a device for telling the story, bonding these characters and bringing them more into focus was a seriously smart move on playwright Baker’s part, as Theatre games are…well, freaking absurd. I’ve played my share during my time at the OSSD, and can only imagine how crazy they must look to a total outsider, but the audience seemed to be eating it up. From various scenes acting out portions of each others’ lives, to a wonderful moment where Koensgen and McVie, talking gibberish to one another, somehow manage to speak too much truth, it’s all very charming, very effective, and for the most part, really damn funny (Schultz’ attempt to use the class to recreate his childhood bedroom is PRICELESS). It all leads up to some decidedly sober moments, hurt feelings, and an ending that is so jarring and yet so sweetly perfect that I couldn’t believe it was happening for a moment. Marvelous.
With a cast like this, it almost goes without saying I was happy with the performances…and actually, the one cast member I had never seen before, Catherine Rainville, stole the show more than a few times, her sullen, skulking Lauren often winning laughs with nothing more than a glare or a sigh. But everyone is top-botch…Andy Massingham and Sarah McVie had a few dynamite scenes together, trying to ignite a potentially doomed romance, while Koensgen and Ellis , as the married couple struggling to hang on, lent some much-needed gravity to the proceedings. And I should shout out to set and costume designer Robin Fisher, whose school gym set was just perfect, as well as the costumes (for the ladies especially).
Got to say I had a ball at the last GCTC show of the season…CMT is sweet, charming, funny, and deceptively smart. In short, it’s Curmudgeon-Kryptonite, and more power to it. Thanks for the smiles, Lise-Ann, I’ll miss ya! Although of course, I WILL be back to see this show one more time, during my volunteer shift on closing weekend. And I can hardly wait. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)