“The Summer Circle” offers a richly inventive —and entirely fictional — history of how MSU’s Summer Circle Theatre began. Written and directed Review by MSU Theatre Department Professor Rob Roznowski, it is an homage to MSU’s 54-year tradition of performing outdoor plays during the summer.
The setting is Circle Lake, a summer rental cottage community in Michigan, represented by a simple but effective wooden structure of angled roofs and screen doors. Four rambunctious children bond as they present free shows to the locals every night.
Coming to this natural, outdoor world, the children, played by four energetic actors, take on new roles and identities each night while exploring new possibilities of playfulness, improvisation and creativity.
The four actors (Andrew Head, Anna Morreale, Katherine Schooler and Madelayne Shammas) hold the audiences rapt, as we watch them shape scenes from the raw materials of their experiences: Imagining lake creatures, enacting dancing vegetables, dramatizing Fourth of July celebrations gone awry. The characters adapt to each other and come together, despite differences, in shaping their performances.
Initially, “The Summer Circle” seemed slow and talky, but the play picked up a crisp rhythm, with the children running around the cottage set and in out of various parts. The four children’s mothers are all skillfully played by the same actress, Mandy Myers, who pops in to provide explanations. Audience participation is required, with the characters randomly picking on the gathered children and adults to help them in their performances.
“The Summer Circle” ends on a wistful note, celebrating the theatrical community, and also its end as the summer comes to a close and the guests depart. In an evocative moment, the play hearkens to the children’s future and reflects on what they learned from their artistic forays.
With a light, comic touch, Roznowski raises profound questions about life and art, about what the children learn about collaboration, creativity, and the joy of making friends through the process.