Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Margin Notes: Constellations

(trying out a new format, bear with me)
Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson as Roland and Marianne.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Seen on: Sunday, 1/4/15.
Ticket purchased: MTC's 30 Under 30 program.
My grade: A. A fantastic start to the second half of this theater season.

Plot and Background
We follow the many different permutations and possibilities of a relationship that spans parallel universes, time, and inner demons. Equal parts funny and moving, with clear transitions and a steady jog of a pace. American debut; premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre. Featuring the Broadway debuts of both Gyllenhaal and Wilson. Playwright Nick Payne's last NY show was the Off-Broadway If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, also directed by Michael Longhurst and starring Gyllenhaal, which ran at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre in Fall 2012.

What I Knew Beforehand:
Pretty much nothing. Just the cast. Right before the show started, my friend told me it was about (see above) different permutations on a relationship. Apparently I had told her this months ago. Good job me!


Play: God, I loved this. The structure of it, the story itself, the quickness and flexibility of the dialogue. It felt sometimes like a Meisner exercise gone horribly wrong - or perhaps horribly right. The structure relies largely on scenes being recycled - or re-attempted - several times through; sometimes with strong dialogue revisions, and sometimes with identical dialogue but vastly different tone and intent. And somehow it doesn't matter which version is the "real" version - I invested strongly in them as characters, in their relationship, whichever shape it took, and in what drew them together and apart. Wilson's character Marianne, a Cambridge theoretical physicist, has three semi-speeches which help illustrate the play's themes - the first, a whimsical theory that if you could lick your elbow you could live forever; the second, a discussion of the possibility of multiple parallel universes (multiverse), all based on different choices one could make, which both demands and denies free will; the third, that time - being the one asymmetrical concept in physics - doesn't matter on as fundamental a level as molecules - so there's no "more" time or "less" time but a sense that you have all of the time, the time past and present, with you always.

Cast: It's easy to underestimate Jake Gyllenhaal - he's so sweet and likeable, and he hasn't done much theater yet. But both he and Ruth Wilson gave wonderfully honest and beautifully nuanced performances in this two-hander (and for the record, his accent work sounded strong to me). It was also fun to see Ruth Wilson - who usually plays characters with such poise - play such an awkward, off-center person. I loved the two of them so much in this - both the performers and the characters they played. (personal and unnecessary thought: I really wanted to play with his hair. It looks like it'd be fun to play with.)

Design: The set was a lovely minimal - and abstract - canopy of white balloons (which were actually lights, but shush they were balloons) whose meaning didn't become clear until late in the play (and then it was just ... ow, it hurts my feelings). The costume design was simple and utilitarian, keeping Roland in blue tones and Marianne in pink tones. Lighting design contributed strongly to keeping the narrative clean and clear - quick blackouts for the "redo" transitions and slower, more somber shifts for the jumps forward to the backward conversation (confused? go see it).


Running: now playing at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Broadway/Manhattan Theatre Club) - opening January 13, 2015. Closing: March 15, 2015
Category: Straight play
Length: 80 minutes, no intermission

Creative Team

Author: Nick Payne
Director: Michael Longhurst
Designers: Tom Scutt (Scenic & Costume), Lee Curran (Lighting), David McSeveney (Sound), Simon Slater (Original Music), Lucy Cullingford (Movement Director), Thomas Schall (Fight Director).
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson

Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson as Roland and Marianne.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

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