Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Review - Constellations

I was a very lucky girl today - my boss asked if I'd like to be his Tony-ticket guest at the matinee of the new play, Constellations, playing at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre.  Of course I said yes.  It's been a while since my last play and I've been interested in seeing this show ever since I heard about it.  The bending of time and space is always of interest to me, especially in theater.  I will admit that I was never on the Jake Gyllenhaal bandwagon before, but move over, I'm on it now.  : )

Constellations, by Brit Nick Payne, is a two-character piece about a beekeeper and a cosmologist.  What makes it interesting is how the play is structured in short scenes; the scenes often repeat the scene preceding it, but gives it a different tone or different reading or different outcome, showing the multitude of results that can come from different choices.  Ruth Wilson plays Marianne, a scientist specializing in cosmology, who frequently talks about how time is fluid.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays Roland, a beekeeper who, we discover at one point, envies his bees because they have a specific purpose in life and they can cram an eternity of experiences into a short lifespan because of this specific purpose.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
Essentially a meditation on life and love, Marianne and Roland are seen in different time periods, zig zagging back and forth, depending on what choice was previously made.  So in some scenes they're still together, in others they're separated, married to others, or still searching.  It's a testament to the fantastic acting by Wilson and Gyllenhaal that each of their choices seems absolutely real and believable.  I can see this couple together, I can see them apart.  There is a thread throughout where the play sort of ends up, but I won't spoil that.  But the actors' chemistry and their commitment to this very dense (yet brief) script is terrific.  These are two of the best acting performances I've seen lately.

I admit, once or twice, that my mind wandered, I tired of the dramaturgy and felt the need for the play to 'get on with it' (I am a plot girl), but for the most part, I was completely on board and fascinated with the twists and turns in these characters' lives.  I was quite moved by their choices and surprised at many of the reversals and the end results that happened because of the choices/reversals.  This is a story I've seen before but told in a totally new way to me.  Yes, I've seen Sliding Doors and If/Then, which have sort of the same premise, but this storytelling was more compelling for me.  The playwright's use of language is first-rate, and later, his use of non-language is just as smart and moving. 

The play is masterfully directed by Michael Longhurst, who also directed the original London production a few years ago.  It was all just so clean and smart, with no frills, but so specific and organic.  The direction didn't call attention to itself, but Constellations must've been a massive undertaking, both for the director and for the actors.  The work never showed.  I also thought the lighting design was fantastic and emphasized the temporal aspects of the play.  In the interest of full disclosure, my seat neighbor did not enjoy it as much, and found it more an intellectual and acting exercise than a play.  Maybe he's right, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the experience very much, and I look forward to seeing Nick Payne's next piece. 

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