No doubt about it: South Florida theater folks love the plays of Annie Baker.
Island City Stage presented her “Body Awareness” in 2013. Alliance Theatre Lab did “The Aliens” in 2015, and earlier this year Mad Cat staged an impressive production of Baker’s lengthy, Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Flick.”
Now Area Stage Company in Coral Gables has jumped onto the Baker bandwagon with its new production of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” an Obie Award-winning 2009 script, a piece that helped cement Baker’s place in the hearts of theater practitioners.
Staged by Area founder John Rodaz, who also designed the exercise-room set and the show’s lighting, “Circle Mirror Transformation” takes a layered approach to exploring the lives of five residents of a fictional Vermont college town (which also happens to be the setting for “Body Awareness” and “The Aliens”).
Four are students in a six-week “adult creative drama” class at the local community center. Their teacher Marty (Miriam Kulick), who heads the center, puts them through a series of exercises and games that will be familiar to anyone who has ever dabbled in theater. Within the structured framework, Baker explores evolving relationships, supplying bits of biography in creative ways, augmenting or altering points of view. From the start of Week One to the finish of Week Six, everyone changes as the drama spills over from class to life.
Marty’s students are her husband James (Gil Kaufman), a man angrily at odds with his grown daughter from a previous marriage; Schultz (Carlos Orizondo), a divorced carpenter-artisan; Teresa (Sarah Melick), a vibrant beauty who tried the acting game in New York; and Lauren (Jeana Montgomery), a quiet kid thinking about theater or veterinary medicine as career options.
Over the course of a summer, relationships are forged and shattered. Defenses get peeled away, truths revealed. The specifics? Those need to be experienced in the moment.
Costumed by Maria Banda-Rodaz, who nails everything from Marty’s nontraditional healer artsy vibe to Schultz’s rugged Vermont carpenter look, the actors create credible characters whose lives are clearly impacted by the theater games they play.
Orizondo and Melick deliver the linchpin performances, he evolving from disillusionment to lustiness to soul-crushed dejection, she embodying an alluring woman who doesn’t have her emotional house in order. Montgomery’s Lauren grows more interesting as her character becomes more talkative, although her horrified but amusing silent recoil when she sees something she shouldn’t speaks volumes. Kulick and Kaufman shine as they bask in the glow of the Marty-James relationship origin story, but the two rarely seem like a credible couple.
Deliberately, Baker has inserted pauses and repetition into “Circle Mirror Transformation,” and some theatergoers may find those devices wearisome. Even so, Rodaz and his cast make the reasons for Baker’s ascendant career crystal clear.
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If you go
What: ‘Circle Mirror Transformation’ by Annie Baker.
Where: Area Stage Company, 1560 S. Dixie Hwy., Coral Gables.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 2.
Cost: $40 and $45 Friday-Saturday, $30 and $35 other shows ($20 for those under 30, $15 rush tickets).
Information: 305-666-2078 or http://www.areastagecompany.com/