Circle Mirror Transformation - A Baroque Continuo HarpsichordSaturday, October 01, 2011
It was the kind of interview, almost an hour long that good magazines (and newspapers, too!) of yore might at one time published for the delight of theatre goers who want more than plain pap.
Hard-pressed local art papers say they cannot afford to do both previews and reviews of plays, concerts, operas and dance performances. They dispatch their overworked critics to either one or the other.
Circle Mirror Transformation is the kind of play that would have been better understood had it had the preview that John Lekich could have written. He was limited to his fine guest blog.
What Nicola Cavendish did say was that the young playwright, Annie Baker (30) had delivered a sparse 160 pages of script that had little information on the background of the characters and little information on how they might have to be directed.
When she said this it reminded me of the continuo parts for harpsichord, cello and bass that I have learned to love from Early Music Vancouver and Pacific Baroque Orchestra performances. In particular I would cite the harpsichord playing by Alex Weimann (Musical Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and frequent performer for Early Music). Weimann has explained in pre-concert talks how in the notation by 17th and early 18th century composers there is little for the continuo player (the background music played by the instruments I noted above) to figure out, as little is indicated. These players are forced to embellish, extrapolate, and improvise what is not written. This means that rarely are these concert performances exactly alike from one day to the next. Look at it as baroque jazz!
In many respects Cavendish said that the five actors (Alex Diakun, Emilee-Julliette Glyn-Jones, Brian Linds, Donna White and Anita Wittenberg) have to improvise and or receive direction. They must trust and depend on the director.
Here is where subtlety plays its hand.
It was just a few days ago that Rosemary and I watched The Journey, Anatole Litvak’s 1959 film featuring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr set in the Russian intervention of Hungary in 1956. At one point the hated Russian officer, prancing in his beautiful black horse in the streets of Budapest is accosted by freedom fighters that shoot his horse in the leg.
The despondent and confused Brynner (Who wouldn’t’be in the presence of Deborah Kerr?) says, “I am a soldier taught to kill men and I cannot even shoot my horse.” He then gives his pistol to a young officer.and tells him to shoot the horse. At that point Rosemary got up as she is not the type who winces on any kind of film violence.
I asked her to stay as the director wisely just allowed us to hear two shots. We saw no horse. This subtlety was much more crushing and the scene between Brynner and Kerr, which happens immediately after is devastatingly wonderful.
Subtlety is not a strong spade in modern film or anything else. But Circle Mirror Transformation contains subtlety and if you watch the body language of the actors, and their faces, you can figure out what they are thinking in this play about four people who attend drama classes in a community centre in a small Vermont town. At a base level the play is funny but there is much more to it.
Watching the performers going through quick scenes that sometimes seemed abrupt finally made me realize that this play, much like a baroque harpsichord score, made it necessary for the audience to fill in the missing pieces. And it is this very procedure that makesCircle Mirror Transformatio not a play you just sit to watch, but one in which you (the audience) are part of the creation being explored on stage.
The other charm of the play came to me only because recently John Lekich and I attended a rehearsal of a young playwright’s (Bronwen Marsden) play called Three Sisters in Langley. Before the four actors began the rehearsal they formed a circle (much like in the class of Circle Mirror Transformation) and began to shout at each other, push each other and some of them even sang. I was most confused until Lekich told me this was standard warm-up procedure. Would anybody know this? Thus the weird shenanigans that drama teacher Marty (Donna White) forces on her amazed and confused students rang true for me.
Circle Mirror Transformation continues at the Granville Island Stage until to October 22