I saw my actor buddy Doug perform in a small production of Annie Baker's CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION this weekend, and my opinion of the play still stands from a few years ago - another name for the play might be "How We Learned About Ourselves and Each Other Through Acting Games."
I thought I would like the play more, actually, based on reading it. But the pace really dragged - Baker's Pulitzer Prize-winning play THE FLICK was notorious for having incredibly long pauses in the dialog and this play also had incredibly long pauses. Which of course you don't experience in a reading.
I have to wonder if the long pauses are part of Mac Wellman's influence on Baker. Wellman is opposed to what he calls the "sentimental melodrama" of contemporary theater but that's what CIRCLE MIRROR is all about - the stuff of soap operas: romantic relationships and family troubles.
Thanks to Baker's formalist experimentation, with all the pauses and almost complete lack of direct interpersonal confrontation, the emotional quality of the play is muted - and I assume that is the case with THE FLICK too, based on the (mostly glowing) reviews I've read. So I suppose that might be a sign of Wellman's influence. He really hates strong, clear human emotions.
Wellman avoids human emotions in his plays through inscrutable plots which dispense with the cause-and-effect necessary for a satisfying story or for sympathetic characters. Which is why only critics love his plays - and why you can't pay most audiences to sit through his work. Baker has avoided that problem - she provides standard coherent plotlines, which is why people do want to see her work. Audiences fill in the great big blanks left by Baker's plots, because they can see the realistic human scenarios in them. And Baker gets plenty of mileage out of standard tropes - the surly teen-ager who learns a lesson being the main one in CIRCLE MIRROR. It takes very little effort for audiences to fill in the blanks of that scenario.
As I expected, the biggest laugh of the show was the line the critics adored and always mentioned - when the surly teenager asks "are we ever going to do any real acting in this class"?
Kids say the darndest things.