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Five lives connect, unspool in Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation

November 16, 2016
group of four student actors perform a scenel-r: Andria Rabenold '18, Daniela Shapiro '20, Ian Von Fange '17, and Murie Gillett '17 in the International Theatre Program's production of Circle Mirror Transformation (University Photo/J. Adam Fenster)

University of Rochester International Theatre Program closes its fall semester with guest director Pirronne Yousefzadeh’s production of what she calls “a love letter to the theater.”

Lauded by the critics as an “absolute feast” and “unheralded gem,” Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation explores the lives of a group of small town Vermonters through the minutely detailed lens of those characters taking an acting class. With affection, empathy, quiet drama, and the magnificent eye and ear of a detailed miniaturist, Baker lays bare the souls of her characters in this funny and quietly devastating contemporary American masterpiece. The production opens December 1, and runs through December 10, in the River Campus’s Todd Theatre.

Baker, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her later play, The Flick, is a young American playwright of extraordinary talent. A Guggenheim Fellow and an American Academy of Arts and Letters, Hull-Warriner, Steinberg, and multi-Obie Award-winner, her work is celebrated for its extreme naturalism and raw intimacy, her acute observation of character, and the precision of her dialogue. Her other plays include Body Awareness, The Aliens, and John. Collectively they have been produced in more than 150 theaters in more than a dozen countries. Artistic director of the Theatre Program, Nigel Maister, calls Baker “one of the pre-eminent theater voices of this current generation; an artist who speaks directly and incisively to and about our current sensibilities.”

In a community center in a small fictional Vermont town, five strangers gather to attend a six-week acting class. Over the course of their time together, they play simple theater games, through which the struggles, hopes, despairs, connections, and estrangements within the group and in their individual lives are slowly revealed. Circle Mirror Transformation quietly examines the idea that our lives and inner worlds may be both richer and simpler than we might imagine; that what binds us or drives us apart can be manifested in the smallest human detail; and that the act of telling your story through performance can be both personally liberating and publicly transformative.

l-r: Ian Von Fange (Schultz), Casey Brentnall (James), Andria Rabenold (Theresa), Daniela Shapiro (Lauren) and Murie Gillett (Marty). // PR photos for University of Rochester Todd Theatre production Circle Mirror Transformation in Sloan studio November 2, 2016. / / photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester

l-r: Ian Von Fange ’17, Casey Brentnall ’20, Andria Rabenold ’18, Daniela Shapiro ’20, and Murie Gillett ’17. (University photo/J. Adam Fenster)


Guest director Pironne Yousefzadeh is a Brooklyn-based theater director, writer, and educator. She has directed and developed new work at more than 24 theaters nationwide and was a 2016 Sagal Fellow at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. She’s also a New York Theatre Workshop “Usual Suspect” and a New Georges Affiliated Artist. Yousefzadeh’s productions have earned more than 15 Barrymore nominations, and she has been a frequent guest director at Juilliard, Yale School of Drama, and NYU. Yousefzadeh says she’s excited to be working with the undergraduate students at the Rochester, and praises them for their excitement and “love for the game.”

Yousefzadeh’s design team includes set designer Carolyn Mraz, whose recent credits include Porgy and Bess at the Spoleto Festival, and work at Clubbed Thumb, Bushwick Starr, and for the experimental theater company Target Margin; costume designer Brooke Cohen (Theater for a New City, Invisible Dog, and the Cherry Lane Theater); lighting designer Cecilia Durbin (Chautauqua Festival, LaMaMa, Playmaker’s Rep, and the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble); and sound designer Emily Auciello (Signature Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Two River Theater Company).

Circle Mirror Transformation opens on December 1, 2016. The production runs Thursday through Saturday (December 1–3) and Wednesday through Saturday (December 7–10) at 7 p.m. There is a matinee performance on Sunday, December 4, at 2 p.m. All performances take place at Todd Theatre on the University of Rochester’s River Campus. Tickets are $8 for Rochester students, $12 for alumni, faculty, staff, and seniors (65+), and $15 for the general public. Tickets may be purchased online at, or by calling (585) 275-4088. Tickets may also be purchased up to an hour before each performance at the box office.

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Category: The Arts