Amanda's mother lets her boyfriend Ily live in their garage. Next month, when Amanda turns 18, Ily plans for them to get a proper apartment together even though now he only makes enough money dealing drugs to buy a snowboard pass. But he has just acquired a great, if unspecified, position at The Keg. Apartment secured, they will move his collection of bongs and swords, and his camping mattress, but in the meantime it's the weekend, Amanda's mother is away, so they're having some friends over.
Amanda's friends, a gay couple, are 14 and 17, a flamboyant aspiring tattoo artist and the son of a priest. Ily has only recently reconnected with a childhood friend, Tyler now named "Mutt," and he has brought along his street-punk girlfriend Kit. Stir in a case of beer, a bottle of liqueur and a variety of drugs, resentments, secrets and thwarted desires, and the gathering becomes a bleak comic mashup of The Boys in the Band and The Breakfast Club, or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as an after school special with a language warning.
Except that these kids, and it is emphasized that they pre-adult, are inarticulate - passionate, hurting and determined but not quite able to express their wants and desires except through kibitzing, denying, feigned exuberance, drugs and eventually violence. Geoffrey Simon Brown's script is highly schematic as the themes, props, characters and revelations neatly interlock in search of poetry. Add in the flashbacks and flash forwards and a heightened state is achieved. Except that the characters are seemingly unable to learn, so we are left at a distance, watching with horror and amusement rather than identifying.
Director Peter Pasyk (Late Company) keeps the action and overlapping dialogue/plot lines flowing briskly and, as the metaphors pile up, so does our dread of the inevitable. Special mention has to be made of the set designed by Patrick Lavender that gets powerful subliminal impact out of a brief effect that is a scaled-down version of the one Cirque du Soleil built Luzia around. Somehow the magical moments balance with the brutally realistic ones that take a toll on the props and the, mostly, realistic fight scenes.
Credit must be shared with the cast who are all strong and deliver the hyper-realism The Circle needs to work. The host Jakob Ehman (Donors, Firebrand, Cockfight, Nature of the Beast) is a manchild, a self-admitted idiot who is also irresistibly charming. We laugh with him instead of at him, when he introduces his bongs with names ranging from "Obi Bong Kenobi" to "Trudeau." The danger is always there, lurking just under the jovial comic facade, but Ehman is the boy/man you want to resist but know you will, probably to your severe detriment, succumb to. Vivien Endicott-Douglas is his ticket out and she knows it but keeps her resentment festering beneath a cheery exterior. Until it cracks.
Nikki Duval dispenses deadpan wisecracks and side eye to great comic effect but also grabs the most heartbreaking moments and makes them her own. The blasé semi-Goth attitude shelters some real pain. The gay couple, Daniel Ellis and Jake Vanderham, deserve a play of their own as Brown crams a lot of backstory and ideas into two characters who are merely catalysts for the moment that suppressed gay desire between old friends explodes. The tentative romance between Ellis and Vanderham packs a punch with a single casual kiss generating more heat than the stagey writhing, or bickering, between the het-oriented couples.
Brian Solomon brings a sexy swagger with an edge of desperation to the doomed interloper who is an aching pit of need and confusion. He appeals and repulses in equal measure, often within sentences. Solomon even almost manages to pull off a final monologue that grates as it strains for a profundity that fortunately is transformed into catharsis by another stage effect.
Whether The Circle is an accurate portrait of a drifting broken generation or not is beside the point. The performances and the characters ring true, and there is a definite joy in watching the plot, props and themes mesh together with clockwork precision. And if the resolution, the meaning, is less satisfying, it feels accurate and a byproduct of the very poetic inarticulateness the characters are mired in. And that makes The Circle a portrait of us all.