The excruciating torment of a crappy play – Circle of Will

The excruciating torment of a crappy play – Circle of Will

Circle of Will - photo by: Alexis Fancher

It’s a really, really bad sign when you start checking your watch 30 minutes into a ninety minute one act play, because those ninety minutes soon start to feel like nine hours. Jack Grapes’ play Circle of Will is an excruciating theatrical experience that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

Why?  Here is a play that is purportedly a comedy – and yes, there are several good lines that elicit laughs – but is, in fact, a poorly written exercise in existentialism that strives for the brilliance of Sartre‘s No Exit. And spectacularly fails.

Circle of Will is also a perfect primer for ‘How to torture your audience.’  Ha ha ha.

A good two-thirds of the play, meaning about one hour, is spent enduring the two main characters search for an ending to this play.  So, what’s worse than watching a badly written play?  A play that REFUSES to end AND – punishingly – begins all over again.

Circle of Will?

More like Circle of HELL.

THE GOOD: This play stars Joe Briggs as a posturing, preening Richard Burbage, who theatre buffs and historians will remember as being Shakespeare’s leading man back during Elizabethan times. Burbage most famously was the star of William Shakespeare’s theatre company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men which mutated into the King’s Men (playing company) on the ascension of James I of England in 1603. Burbage is deservedly famous for playing the title role in the first performances of many of Shakespeare’s more renowned plays, including Hamlet, Othello, Richard III  and King Lear.

With his tall stature, handsome features, funny facial expressions and physicality, Joe Briggs resembles a young Marlon Brando PLUS he has impeccable comic timing. Briggs is the only saving grace in this otherwise ghastly endurance test.

Director Brian Herskowitz did an okay job despite his cast’s insistence on adopting inconsistent acting styles.

THE BAD: Jack Grapes co-stars as an incompetent Will Shakespeare and Grapes also co-wrote this rotten play.  His acting style is relaxed and natural (while Joe Briggs’ is broad and frequently amusing.) Jack Grapes in nowhere near as charming or funny as he evidently thinks he is.

THE UGLY: It’s when the two characters start to depart from the script (or do they?!) and break into some kind of improv meets stand up comedy exchange with the audience – and even bring some poor hapless audience member (or is she?!) up on stage, that the play really starts to fall apart.

THE EXTRA UGLY: Here’s the sticking point – Jack Grapes not only co-stars and co-wrote this play, but he is also a fairly renowned writing teacher who apparently is fantastic at “helping writers to find their voice.”  Bravo, on your teaching success, Mr. Grapes, because apparently you cannot write a play that doesn’t make me want to give you a piece of my mind in the foyer afterwards.

SIDENOTE: There was a lot of laughter in the audience that my companions and I did not share. I saw a lot of adulation in the expressions of Jack Grapes’ students and fans. I can only assume they would not know a decent comedy if it crawled up their arse and sprouted sparkles.

Can you tell I passionately hated this play?

Avoid Circle of Will at all costs.


WHERE:  Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Rd., West Hollywood, CA 90069. There is some parking available in an onsite lot and also across the street.

WHEN: Runs through Sunday, August 15, 2010.

Regular show times: Thurs.-Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 7pm.


RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-7822


ESTIMATED RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 30 minutes.

Review by Pauline Adamek.

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


  • Wow, Pauline! Truly nasty!

    I was one of those people in the audience laughing out loud…and I’m not a Jack Grapes’ student either…just someone who appreciated a night of simple laughter with just enough thought provoking humor to make for a fun discussion afterwards at dinner.

    It is clear that we have a difference of opinion about this play but I was surprised at your vitriol….not very professional based on standards of journalism in my way of thinking.

    Hopefully your writing attempts will never meet so harsh a judgment.

  • ^ Hi Sally, Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Yeah, I admit I was pretty savage with this review, even on people such as yourself who *did* enjoy the play.

    I allow that particular attack was fairly uncalled-for, but I do stand by my criticism of this lousy play.

    It was excruciating to sit through. Plus, I was absolutely livid afterward.

    The very next night I saw a gorgeous and authentic play (see my review of Jaybird and Hallelujah) and my hope was restored. 🙂

  • Dear Pauline,
    I think your humor and wit make this review much more entertaining than the play itself could ever be, albeit I have not seen, nor ever intend to see, Circle of Wit. You’ve saved me time, money, and have given me a lot of enjoyment in your ever-so-honest “attack” of a giant fizzle. I trust your judgement.
    With admiration, Richelle


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