circle mirror transformation cast Cast of Circle Mirror Transformation - L to R (lower left) Anastasia Higham, Michael Patten, Gretchen Krich, Elizabeth Raetz, Peter A. Jacobs. Photo by Keri Kellerman

The Shirley, VT Plays

"What happens on stage should be just as complicated and just as simple as things are in real life," wrote playwright Anton Chekhov. "People are sitting at a table having dinner, that’s all, but at the same time their happiness is being created, or their lives are being torn apart.”

Playwright Annie Baker, at the age of just 28, has brilliantly scripted four plays that celebrate the simplicity of life. Stemming from a fascination with stillness and silence, Baker’s work feels incredibly naturalistic, defined by well-placed pauses. While the lives of her characters—all residents in the fictional town of Shirley, Vermont—revolve around minor dramas, the impact of their connections is deeply resonant…and wildly funny.

"I think what keeps me coming back to Shirley is just the fact that I’ve thought about it so much, and so as a result I have a cast of like 600 characters in my mind," said Baker in a 2009 interview with Playwrights Horizons. "When I start writing a new play, it’s very tempting to use some of those characters — characters that were mentioned in passing in other plays, or characters that I’ve just come up with for fun because I’m a crazy person."

Here’s a look at who lives in Shirley, as shown in each of Baker’s four plays set there.

Body Awareness, 2008

Shirley High School teacher Joyce, her partner Phyllis, and Joyce’s son, Jared, are challenged by the arrival of guest artist Frank Bonitatibus when he stays with them for the local college’s Body Awareness week.

Joyce, 55, teaches Cultural Studies at Shirley High School
Jared, 21, her son
Phyllis, 45, her girlfriend, a psychology professor at Shirley State College
Frank Bonitatibus, 59, a guest artist photographer

Circle Mirror Transformation, 2009

An unlikely collection of strangers sign up for Marty’s “Adult Creative Drama” class.

Marty, 55, “Adult Creative Drama” class instructor
James, 60, her hippie husband
Schultz, 48, a recently divorced carpenter
Theresa, 35, former actress
Lauren, 16, high school junior

The Aliens, 2010

An unusual trio of outsiders,—two slackers and an uncertain high schooler—find friendship on the desolate back patio of a coffee shop in the summertime.

Jasper, 31, self-proclaimed novelist
KJ, 30, college dropout
Evan, 17, high schooler, in a constant state of humiliation

Nocturama, 2010

Twenty-six-year-old recently dumped Brooklynite Skaggs Bernstein returns home to Vermont to live with his mother and her boyfriend.

Skaggs Bernstein, 26, self-loathing
Judy, 58, his mother
Gary, 60, her boyfriend