"Circle Mirror Transformation" stars Molly McKasson, center, and, clockwise from McKasson, Brian Wees, Carrie Hill, Lucille Petty and James Henriksen.

TIM FULLER / INVISIBLE THEATRE

Oh those theater folk.

They can be so, well, strange. And engaging.

Which makes them good fodder for a play - and that's exactly what they are in "Circle Mirror Transformation," which Invisible Theatre opens next week.

The title is taken from a theater game that actors-in-training do. It involves improvising variations on sounds and gestures.

The play takes place in an acting class at a small community center in Vermont.

But don't let that scare you.

"People may think you have to be an insider" to get it, says Betsy Kruse Craig, who is directing the Annie Baker play.

"But it's so not about an acting class. It's about accepting who you are."

It's sort of a motley crew that has signed up for the class: a high schooler who longs to play Maria in "West Side Story"; a man struggling to get over a divorce; an actress who never made it in New York; and the husband of the woman teaching the class (at the urging of his wife, no doubt).

"The plot line doesn't exist," says Craig. "It's about the people. It's character driven and is about uncovering the layers of the people taking this class. It's not really about the class; it's about what happens and what the class reveals about these people."

Directing this is an interesting exercise for Craig - she teaches acting at the University of Arizona.

"It parallels my life," she says.

"I do the same thing: teach the students to get out of their own way, to listen, stop acting, and to learn who you are before you can consider being someone else. Being who you are is the greatest tool you have as an actor."

But, she quickly adds, that's true for everyone.

"It's not lessons about acting; it's lessons about being human beings," she says.

"All of us go through the day with masks on, and the play is about taking off the masks, about being real and stop pretending to be someone you're not."

Sound heavy? The play isn't, says Craig.

"It's definitely a comedy, but it's one of those plays that bridges into something else," she says.

"It's incredibly absurd to watch - there are these five people going through outlandish acting exercises. Comedy comes out of humanity, but it also pinpoints our very human flaws in a very simple way."

"Circle Mirror Transformation" snagged an Obie Award, the annual Off-Broadway Theater Awards from the Village Voice, last year and it has been making the rounds at theater companies around the country since.

The script has received raves wherever it's played.

Craig isn't surprised that it has resonated so.

"You see people coming to grips with who they are and where they are in life," she says.

"That's simple to say, but it's very complex to put a mirror back on ourselves."

If you go

• What: "Circle Mirror Transformation."

• Playwright: Annie Baker.

• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.

• Director: Betsy Kruse Craig.

•When: Preview is 7:30 p.m. Monday; opening is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Regular performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 20.

• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.

• Tickets: $18 preview; $25 regular performances. Rush hour tickets are half-price 30 minutes before curtain; subject to availability.

• Reservations, information: 882-9721 or www.invisibletheatre.com

• Running time: About 90 minutes, with no intermission.

• Cast: Molly McKasson, James Henriksen, Carrie Hill, Brian Wees and Lucille Petty.