If you've ever taken one of those Learning Annex-type acting classes or even something more ambitious, you know they can be a helluva lot of fun. You play theater games, leap blindly into improv sketches, make primal noises and tumble around a stage like the kid you used to be. Watching other people having all the fun, however, is another story entirely, and that's the dilemma with New Village Arts' Circle Mirror Transformation.
Annie Baker's play unfolds over six weeks in a community-center drama class in Shirley, Vt. (Two of Baker's other plays, Body Awareness and The Aliens, were also set in this fictitious Vermont burg.) Five people—instructor Marty (Dana Case), her husband James (Tom Stephenson), recently divorced Schultz (Eddie Yaroch), teenaged Lauren (Sophia Richards) and recently broken-up masseuse Theresa (Rhianna Basore)—congregate each week to contort their bodies, play word games and role-play. Surprise of surprises, during the course of the six-week class, each learns something revelatory about himself or herself, and about the others. As such, Circle Mirror Transformation feels formulaic and offers only one U-turn that you don't see coming.
You can't help but get caught up in a couple of the students' narratives. Theresa is such a limber, likable and clearly talented person that you hope she does become a working actress. Rhianna Basore already has, and her future looks bright. Though it's not clear why James is in this class, he's on board with all the stage antics and head games—until one of 'em messes with his head, and with Marty's. Tom Stephenson brings tension and restraint to the role. It's harder to invest oneself in Eddie Yaroch's Schultz, who is intermittently needy, neurotic and borderline strange. On second thought, maybe Schultz is a viable candidate for a David Lynch film.
Circle Mirror Transformation runs 110 minutes and, oddly enough, without an intermission. Don't know why it couldn't have paused after "Week 3" of the drama class. As is, it's a considerable sit in spite of the lightness of the fare.
The play runs through March 2 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. $28-$39. newvillagearts.org
A Lie of the Mind: Beth's severe beating at the hands of husband Jake roils two families in this 1985 Sam Shepard play. Runs Feb. 12 through 23 at UCSD's Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre. theatre.ucsd.edu
DNA New Work Series: La Jolla Playhouse gives the public a chance to watch new plays being developed and rehearsed in a series of workshops and staged readings. Opens Feb. 17. Get the schedule and all the details at lajollaplayhouse.org.
The Gin Game: Two nursing-home residents engage in psychological warfare as they battle in games of gin rummy.
Macbeth: A Scottish general's wife convinces her husband to kill the king so that he can take the throne, and it doesn't end well for either of them. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it runs through Feb. 16 at San Dieguito Academy Performing Arts Centre in Encinitas. intrepidshakespeare.com
Maple and Vine: The Southern California premiere of a play about an unhappy 21st-century married couple who join a community that completely relives the 1950s. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Feb. 16 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
San Diego I Love You 2.0: Audiences are guided to several locations in University Heights to experience a local love story. Presented by Circle Circle dot dot, it runs through Feb. 16, starting at Bourbon Street Bar & Grill in University Heights. circle2dot2.com
The Dixie Swim Club: This one follows five Southern women over time, from college through middle age, as they reconnect periodically a beach retreat. Presented by Different Stages, it runs through Feb. 22 at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights. differentstages.biz
The Fox on the Fairway: A country-club president bets on a golf tournament but loses his ringer to the other side and replaces him with a young employee who happens to be awesome at golf. Sounds a little like Caddyshack. Through Feb. 22 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Bethany: The West Coast premiere of a drama about an down-on-her-luck car saleswoman who squats in a foreclosed home as she tries to reunite with her daughter. Through Feb. 23 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Chicago: An oft-produced musical set in the 1920s about two murderous, fame-seeking women who wind up on death row. Through Feb. 23 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Five Course Love: Whimsical love stories play out at tables in five different restaurants. Through Feb. 23 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Other Desert Cities: A novelist visits her famous parents in Palm Springs amid her plans to publish a memoir that unearths an unpleasant family secret. Through Feb. 23 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Circle Mirror Transformation: The San Diego premiere of a comedy about a group of Vermonters who enroll in a summer theater class. In the process these strangers get to know one another. Through March 2 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Crumbs from the Table of Joy: It's 1950 in Brooklyn, and a grieving black widower has found puritanical religion, uprooted his teenage daughters from Florida and married a white German. Through March 2 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
The Foreigner: A comedy about a sad Brit, a guest at a Georgia fishing lodge, who pretends to speak no English so he doesn't have to talk to anyone and ends up having to save the lodge from the Ku Klux Klan. Through March 2 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
The Who & The What: An author of a book about women and Islam is at serious odds with her traditional Muslim father and her sister. Through March 9 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
The Winter's Tale: A king goes kooky with jealousy, suspecting that his pregnant wife has had an affair with his good friend, and orders that his newborn baby girl be abandoned in a faraway location. Through March 16 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
The 39 Steps: This is a return engagement of a comedic, four-actor stage version of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, as if performed by Monty Python, with lots of allusions to other Hitchcock classics. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it's ongoing at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net