The ongoing revival of the 625-seat auditorium that once housed Studio Arena Theatre will get a major boost tonight when Road Less Traveled Theatre raises the curtain on Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

The critically lauded five-person play, directed by Road Less Traveled Artistic and Executive Director Scott Behrend, will be the first full local production to appear in the space since it reopened as the 710 Main Theatre last year. Behrend also directed the 2008 Studio Arena production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the final full production of that storied and now defunct regional theater company.

“There’s a strange sense of déjà vu working back in there,” Behrend said, “but this feels like it’s something new. It’s been long enough where we’re sort of coming into a space that’s had a lot of history, but I feel like this is a new day dawning.”

The play is part of a developing model in which the 710 Main Theatre will host a variety of productions, from local shows like “Circle Mirror Transformation” to touring pieces such as John Lithgow’s “Stories By Heart,” which was presented in September. The leaders of 710 Main, which was shepherded into existence by Shea’s Performing Arts Center but retains its own separate board and organizational structure, have also expressed a desire to bring in full productions from other cities.

For Behrend, Baker’s play – which features five students in an adult theater class, a kind of grown-up “Breakfast Club” situation with a tinge of “Waiting For Guffman”-esque humor – fits perfectly into his company’s mission and the 710 Main space.

“It’s not a piece that I think would translate to another medium. I think you’ve got to be in the room with these people,” he said. “I am glad that this is the first show that we decided to do because it’s an accessible show, but you still have to do a little bit of work to get the full effect.”

The cast features familiar RLTP faces Lisa Vitrano, Dave Hayes and Robert Rutland, along with newcomers Morgan Chard and Kelsey Mogensen. It won the 2010 Obie Award for best new American play and has been produced at dozens of regional theaters across the United States.

The play’s structure and dialogue, Behrend said, eschews the rapid-fire output of other popular playwrights like David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin for a more naturalistic approach.

“She really explores these awkward pauses that people have with each other, and sometimes it’s deeply hilarious or deeply disturbing,” he said. “We’ve been very successful in bringing a great organic feel to this play, which I think is required.”

Since Shea’s CEO Anthony Conte announced plans to reopen the former Studio Arena space as a presenting theater, some in the theater community have expressed fears that it would only program guaranteed crowd-pleasers on the order of “Nunsense” or “Dixie’s Tupperware Party.”

Behrend hopes “Circle Mirror Transformation” – though by no stretch a particularly difficult work – will put those fears to rest.

“I think there’s been a real fear that [Conte] was just going to come in and program that space for extremely commercial product. That was the conversation that we’d heard from a lot of people in the community,” Behrend said. “I think that this show makes a great statement that, this being the first [local] show, that that’s not going to happen.”


What: “Circle Mirror Transformation”

When: Opens 8 p.m. today through Feb. 17

Where: 710 Main Theatre, 710 Main St.

Tickets: $16 to $25

Info: (800) 745-3000