Playing games

Actors Theatre opens Circle Mirror Transformation -- a play featuring games played by those in a community center acting class -- this Friday at the Herberger Theater Center.

My husband’s been coming home with new books even more than usual these days thanks to sales at local bookstores going out of business. We support plenty of bookstores when they’re thriving, so my guilt is merely mild at this point.

Among his latest haul were two theater-related titles written by award-winning playwrights — “Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays” (1996) by Steve Martin and “Theatre” (2010) by David Mamet. 

I dived into Martin’s “Picasso” play first. It imagines visual artist Pablo Picasso and physicist Albert Einstein conversing in a bar. They’re in their early 20s and have yet to achieve their finest work.

Then I mused my way through Mamet, taking special interest in a chapter addressing “the problem” with acting training. Theater geeks will delight in references to method acting and emotional memory — and names like Stanislavsky, Meisner and Strasberg.

David Vining, Alyson Maloney, Rusty Ferracane, Maren Maclean and Staci Robbins in Circle Mirror Transformation (Photos: John Groseclose)

But those who see the Actors Theatre production of Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which runs April 22-May 8 at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix, may understand and appreciate Mamet’s insights more than most.

Because “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which won the 2010 Obie Award for “Best New American Play,” captures the earnest folly of four students who participate in theater games (much like those Mamet tersely dismisses in his book) during a community center theater class.

The only real thing I know about acting is that I know nothing. But I do have assumptions, interests and curiosities related to the craft and those who embrace it. And profound respect — for art, artist and audience.

I expect some of my curiosities will be satisfied by coupling a reading of Mamet with experiencing “Circle Mirror Transformation.” But I suspect others will be fueled — which is just how I like my theater.

More games from the cast of Circle Mirror Transformation

The cast of “Circle Mirror Transformation” includes several seasoned Valley actors — including David Vining (James), Rusty Ferracane (Schultz) and Maren Maclean (Theresa). My daughter, Lizabeth, studied with Maclean at both Arizona School for the Arts and Scottsdale Community College.

I rarely ask Lizabeth about her acting classes because it feels a bit like therapy to me. Theater is her space, her vibe, her tribe. But maybe I’ll get a better sense of the transformative nature of theater by watching the talented cast of “Circle Mirror Transformation” playing games.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Obie Awards and here to learn who just won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Coming up: “Theater” versus “Theatre”

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