Originally printed in the Winters Express
By JULIA MILLON
A quietly electric sadness descends on the stage, a 10-foot by 20-foot area of carpet in the backstage room of the community center, borders outlined with ragged painters tape. The actors of “Circle Mirror Transformation” are in the middle of a scene portraying an acting exercise in which Schultz (Trent Beeby) and Theresa (Ana Kormos) argue with their scripted lines, dominated by the shortcomings of their own personal relationships.
“I need you to stay,” says Schultz.
“I want to go,” says Theresa.
Schultz, in a fit, grabs Theresa, and yells his line, “I need you to stay!”
After the play is fully rehearsed, director Andrew Fridae gives his notes to the small cast of Beeby, Kormos, Woody Fridae, Heidi Masem, and Linda Glick.
“There’s something powerful about being in an improvisation where what you’re saying is that honest and true,” he says of Schultz and Theresa’s two-line argument.
That could be a larger statement about the play, written by Annie Baker, who won an Obie award for ‘Transformation’ for Best New American Play. The portrait of a New England community acting class, it is keyhole view of the lives of the teacher, Marty (Glick), and her four diverse and complicated students. Through a series of short scenes of various acting exercises, the play pleads the audience to consider the struggles of each of the characters in their worlds outside the space of the class, the only set in the production.
Andrew Fridae has a solid directorial resume from well-received runs in both Portland, OR, and beginning this summer, in Winters, at the helm of the Winters Shakespeare Workshop. Thus far in his career, all of the productions have been thematically geared toward a youth audience, but ‘Transformation’ boldly initiates his extension to a more general, adult audience.
Growing up a part of the Winters theater scene, Andrew Fridae saw most of the material to be genuinely enjoyable and high quality, but perceives an open role for a different kind of play.
“People appreciate complex media,” he says, pointing out the way millions of Americans are voraciously digesting shows like ‘Breaking Bad’ with intricate plots and clever dialogue.
Andrew Fridae admits that there is a higher level of commitment for people to watch the live action of theater outside the comfort of their homes, but he believes that an audience is there.
“If a few hundred people check the play out, no ones going to come away from it saying, ‘ehhh,’” he gestures a shrug of lukewarm apathy.
“I’m so excited for this play,” adds Jeremy Nelson, the Assistant Director/Stage Manager on ‘Transformation.’
Nelson is glad to see a change from the type of theater usually offered in Winters, which will rely on the raw emotion of dialogue rather than high production value of fancy sets, props, or costumes. The play includes only a hula-hoop and a yoga ball, and the stage will be close to the audience, barely off the ground, for a more intimate presentation.
Andrew Fridae first encountered the play while a student of playwriting at Bennington College in Vermont.
“Circle Mirror Transformation was playing off-Broadway at the time, not published yet,” he says, “For the class, we were sent a personal copy from Annie Baker.”
He recalls thinking about directing the play in Winters immediately on a first-reading of the play, a standout experience among a well-rounded curriculum of theater.
While there might be some concern about the play’s relevance since it describes life in New England, and was written for a New York debut, Andrew Fridae believes that the plays truest audience can be found in rural community theater, reflecting the subject matter of the script.
“At first you couldn’t get the rights because it was playing, and then you could only get the rights for big cities. As far as I know, we’re one of the first community theaters to put it on—this is the situation it works best in.”
With the same tender sincerity Marty teaches the craft of acting in ‘Transformation,’ Baker gifts a revolutionary, revealing study of the discord of modern relationships. Andrew Fridae’s direction is likewise a generous offer of gratitude, and promises a rich quest for a tangible, but elusive intimacy.