If you have ever played theater games — or watched “Whose Line is It Anyway” for that matter — you are familiar with the “change” exercise. Two players begin a scene and are then given instructions to change something: their last line, their mood, their relationship to one another etc. Now imagine that this exercise goes on for 80 minutes. That is the effect of Nick Payne’s Constellations. It isn’t a play so much as a master class in the performing arts.
Fortunately for the audience, the two actors striving hard for an A+ are Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson. Ms. Wilson mines each segment for emotional depth as Marianne, who takes the more complicated journey of the two characters. Every part of her body is so consistently engaged in demonstrating physical manifestations of “feeling”, I became exhausted for her. Mr. Gyllenhaal displays remarkable range while living in the other character, Roland’s, very thin skin. Although he has little to work with besides an unusual trade (beekeeping) and an (unlikely) attraction to Marianne, he manages to be by turns awkward, vulnerable, frustrated, and charming. Frankly, I’d expect nothing less from this extraordinary talent and it’s a joy to experience.
Tom Scutt’s sets and Lee Curran’s lighting impressively convey the multiverse in which Marianne and Roland meet. Both design team members were recognized for their work on the West End production of Constellations.
Unfortunately the conceit on which the script is built — that time is an illusion and the past, present and future all exist together — makes it impossible to forge any real connection to these characters. When the reality is fluid, you can’t get any sense of who these people are as individuals much less as a couple. I kinda sorta wanted them to end up together, but mostly because there was no one else on the stage. Ultimately, I just wished I could go back in time and see If There Is I Haven’t Found it Yet.
Tickets for Constellations at the Manhattan Theater Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater are currently on sale through March 15, 2015 at http://constellationsbroadway.com.