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[whitespace] Six women go in 'Circles' at City Lights

By Anne Gelhaus

A GOOD STAGED PLAY-READING is like a good foreign film: potential obstacles to enjoyment--the subtitles in the latter or the in-hand scripts in the former--are soon forgotten as the audience gets caught up in the story. Such is the case with Circles, the work City Lights Theater Company is staging for its Playwright's Showcase. A cogent drama by Los Gatos playwright S. Michele McFadden, Circles is true to life in the way it portrays the relationships among six women friends who have gotten together at a Monterey beach house to celebrate Emily's (Anne McLoughlin) 50th birthday.

The women are by and large stereotypical Northern California tree-huggers, but McFadden gives her characters a depth and respectability that makes the New Age mantras they continually spout more palatable. And to keep all this female bonding from becoming too touchy-feely, Emily's sister, Jo (director Codie Fitch), is the fly in the aromatherapy oil, constantly criticizing and questioning the others. Jo is downright bitchy at times, but she helps prevent the group from using sisterhood to escape their problems.

While most of the cast members still have a few years to go before they're as middle-aged as their characters are supposed to be, they grow into their roles. Audiences may have a hard time suspending their disbelief when McLoughlin's Emily talks about having three children (one who's apparently old enough to be going to his prom), but McLoughlin's overall portrayal is strong enough to make her obvious lack of wrinkles only a minor annoyance. The ensemble cast works well together, each actor seeming less encumbered by her script as the play's action unfolds.

As a special bonus to all would-be directors and critics, as well as to generally opinionated theater patrons, City Lights is holding a postshow discussion with McFadden and the cast after every performance. It's a great opportunity to point out that plot hole, critique a character or just say, "Here's how I would have done it." Ego bruising as it might be to those involved, this kind of feedback could lead to a more well-rounded production of Circles in the future.

Circles plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm through June 6 at City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $10-$12. (408/295-4200)

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From the June 4-10, 1998 issue of Metro.

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