A lesson in humanity
Shirley Vermont takes residence at the Boston Center for the Arts
"In Vermont, authenticity is all; they do not try to keep it real, they are real." This quote from the New York Times beautifully sums up young writer Annie Baker’s collection of three plays, Body Awareness, Circle Mirror Transformation, and The Aliens, all set in the fictional town of Shirley, Vermont. Now, for the first time, Boston theatre-goers will be able to experience these heartbreakingly realistic and human plays in a row, as the Huntington Theatre Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company, and Company One Theatre Company have banded together in an unprecedented partnership to separately produce her three major works.
Body Awareness, put on by SpeakEasy Stage Company is Baker’s most linear play, a touching account of a family struggling to connect with each other during Body Awareness week, an event taking place at the local college. Huntington Theatre Company’s Circle Mirror Transformation which manages to be both funny and serious, is the story of drama class participants that find themselves in dangerous territory when harmless theatre games cause conflict. Finally, Company One brings The Aliens to the stage. The Aliens takes us on an entertaining and often heartwarming journey of a friendship between three men, two disillusioned, thirtysomethings and an adolescent coffee shop employee.
Each director picked a performance that best matched the company’s style.
"The good thing about it was that we were all able to maintain the culture of our own organizations," said Paul Daigneault, producer and director for SpeakEasy Stage Company. Body Awareness quietly brings up several controversial topics including homosexuality, mental handicaps and body image. Daigneault said he loves "to do shows that entertain and bring to the forefront talking points." In addition he said that SpeakEasy has a history of doing shows that feature the gay and lesbian community.
And despite the widely varying budgets of each organization - for example, the Huntington was able to spend about twice as much as CompanyOne - one way the directors have been able to insure a thread of continuity is by using the same set and costume designers.
"The fact that Christina was able to design all of us and make it work," "said Company One’s Shawn LaCount of local set designer Christina Tedesco, "is a testament to her dedication."
Yet, despite the varying companies, actors, budgets and scripts, the magic of the plays lies in their ability to be completely unrelated yet share some of the most important characteristics of good theatre - compelling stories, engaging characters, and truly brilliant dialogue.
"I think the thing that people relate most to...is the characters and how fully realized they are," said LaCount. He went on to say that the Aliens fit CompanyOne’s aesthetic because of its appeal to a younger audience.
"The play is about three guys and one of the comments I get most is ’I know those guys and I love those guys’" said LaCount.
The credit here goes straight to Annie Baker, whose works all have the same heart in common - the humanity of their characters. This heart, combined with the provoking topics Baker uses is what Daigenault thinks draws people in.
"One thing I do not love are plays that smack you over the head and are very didactic," Daigenault said, "but it’s not like that at all. The more I work on [Body Awareness], the more I’ve realized that [it’s] really about family and how they are striving to connect with each other."
As the family in Body and Awareness struggle with each other, outsiders, and their own inner issues throughout the week, they hit rock bottom. Only then they are finally able to construct a relationship with one another, something they’ve been missing all along.
It’s topics like this, imbued with such raw emotion, that will blow audiences away.
"[Baker] writes incredible dialogue," Daigneault added. " ... Audiences will be drawn in by the ease with which the actors can fully inhabit their roles, because they’ve been given such a comprehensive character to work with."
"In all three plays there is so much humor and wit and warmth in how each person’s foibles are revealed," said Melia Bensussen, a freelance director working with The Huntington Theatre Company on Circle Mirror Transformation. "She has a tremendous gift for capturing us."
Aside from great performances, what is most exciting about this collaboration is the impact it may have on Boston Theatre. LaCount is hoping it will encourage more collaborative work in the future, heralding in a new era. This partnership is one way which truly sets Boston apart, LaCount said, making it a contender in the cutting-edge and highly competitive, critical world of performance.
"I think that Boston is just starting to become one of the most exciting cities to make theater in America," said LaCount. "The risks that we’re able to take now and the kind of work we’re able to bring to Boston has never happened before."
All three plays will be showing at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, 527 Tremont Street. Tickets to all three shows in the festival are available at bostontheatrescene.com / 617 933-8600.
Circle Mirror Transformation will be playing October 15 - November 14
Body Awareness will be playing October 22 - November 20
The Aliens will be playing October 22 - November 20