The Circle – Suzanne Bachner

Suzanne Bachner’s hilarious and moving play, Circle, is about that most noisily merry and profoundly distressing of subjects, sex. It is hard to imagine an audience member so straitlaced, so together, so "normal" that he or she would not see himself/herself in at least one of its often over-the-top characters. Bees, as we know, do it, birds do it, and of course educated fleas, but they all do it with more dignity, equanimity, and singleness of purpose than human beings, who often do it just for "fun." But therein comes the hilarity, strongly colored in Circle‘s serial sexual shenanigans with anger, sadness, violence, manipulation, and dysfunctional zeal.

Bachner has taken a form invented by Arthur Schnitzler in his 1896 play La Ronde, and more recently adapted in David Hare’s The Blue Room. In the first scene Ben and Derek, two married men (Derek is married to a man) who’ve already met online, meet in person in a New York Starbucks and after a bit of banter adjourn to the restroom for an intense quickie. Then we see Derek and his lesbian friend Karen who has agreed to be impregnated by Derek so that he and his partner can have a child. Derek and Karen are both virgins, at least as far as heterosexual sex is concerned, but they eschew the turkey-baster solution (although they have one handy, just in case) and get it on in a scene that is both touching and absurdly funny.

Then it’s Karen and Lois, Lois and Jason, Jason and Evelyn, Evelyn and Chad, Chad and Rita, Rita and Phil, Phil and Bonnie, and Bonnie and Ben, one of the fellows the audience met in Starbucks in the first scene. In this daisy-chain journey of sexual encounters, many permutations are explored–but certainly not all, the human imagination being too rich for that. New kinks and wrinkles are being invented all the time, the play implies. Underneath it all, however, as the more serious of the play’s scenes make clear, is the need for love and human contact that goes beyond skin-to-skin. Ironically, the most moving, and at the same time the most hilarious, scene of all involves no actual touching at all as two characters have enthusiastic cybersex over the Internet.

All ten interlocking characters are played by four actors. Bob Celli and Felicia Scarangello are especially strong as the cyber-lovers. Judy Charles plays a powerful movie producer who craves her weekly role-play as a groveling submissive with a masterly blend of humor and sadness.

The set is extremely, and appropriately, simple. On a slick round platform, four white cubes and two small white tables provide, in differing combinations, the entire physical world of the play. The costumes, imaginatively chosen, are all black. Helping the actors slip from one garment into another, in full view of the audience, is Danny Wiseman, called the "Undresser." He plays off each one differently, providing gentle amusement to moments that could be simply dead air. Almost as funny as the individual scenes themselves are the sound cues between them, provided by Alexander R. Warner. Yes, the audience is shown clearly, a sexual encounter might indeed sound like a car crash or like a toilet flushing.

Trish Minskoff provides direction that seems to be in perfect harmony with the play, creating a fine-tuned combination of serious character development and irony.