Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I just saw Constellations, an intellectually complicated yet emotionally…


I just saw Constellations, an emotionally complicated yet intellectually…


Someone told me about this play called Constellations


Constellations?  Never heard of it…


Whoa! I can see it will be impossible to write this review of Constellations from within the Multiverse in which it takes place.  So let us return to the more familiar Universe, the one where time flows from past to present to future, and where the paths we take lead us in one direction at a time. 

From the steady perspective of the familiar, imagine yourself living in a non drug-induced plane of existence in which everything you’ve ever done and everything you’ve never done take place simultaneously.

That is the premise of Constellations, playwright Nick Payne’s exploration of a relationship between a down-to-earth beekeeper (Jake Gyllenhaal) named Roland and an endearingly offbeat physicist (Ruth Wilson) named Marianne that unfolds within the latter’s realm of quantum mechanics and string theory. If an electron can be in multiple places at once, Mr. Payne asks, then why can’t we?

The pair meet cute at a barbecue, where the opening conversation is about the impossibility of licking the tip of one’s elbow, an act that Marianne declares holds the key to immortality. Roland, believing her to be flirting with him, tells her right off that he is with someone. 

Then … ZAP… the scene repeats.  Only this time, Roland says he’s just come out of a really serious relationship.   Then…ZAP… again… and then again... through various permutations.  In some of these, Roland is married to someone else.  In others, he is free as a bird and he and Marianne start to build a relationship.

The 70-minute play is made up of dozens of such small scenes that lurch forward and spiral back on themselves, bringing to mind something that Caryl Churchill (Traps, Cloud Nine, A Number) might have concocted, though with a lot of heart to balance out the intellect. 

Who would have thought that a play based on scientific esoterica could be so appealing? That’s thanks to the razor sharp direction of Michael Longhurst and the absolute command of the constant shifts in meaning and tone that Mr. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Wilson bring to their performances. 

As the couple’s relationship blossoms through all of the ZAPS that mark the shifts, we find ourselves growing increasingly fond of them. Think of Constellations as a physicist’s version of Jan de Hartog’s popular two-character play from 1951, The Fourposter, that spans 35 years of a marriage.   

Constellations is undoubtedly an unusual work, and it can seem gimmicky – especially since it actually is based on a gimmick. It is absolutely the quality of the staging and the performances that make it a memorable experience, performances that are so solid that any idea of “stunt casting” goes out the window.  Mr. Gyllenhaal displays a Gary Cooperish charm, and Ms. Wilson is simply irresistible as the slightly offbeat physicist.

Adding to the intriguing nature of the play is Tom Scutt’s set design. The stage appears to be filled with balloons (though they might be subatomic particles). Surprisingly, one of the more touching images is that of these falling to the ground late in the play, a disturbance is the Multiverse and in the world as we perceive it through our limited and primitive senses.

More than anything, one leaves Constellations with a sense of wonder. What if we could live simultaneously within everything we've ever done or might have done?  What if we could choose which of the infinite number of paths to follow at any given time?  
What if we could lick the tip of our elbow?   

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to share your own theater stories by posting a comment. 

1 comment:

  1. And there is NOTHING that beats Queen Street in Kensington on a warm Spring Saturday morning chatting to a star I’ve respected for a long time! It's one of the moments that I will cherish. sober living nyc