Timeless truths in engaging, playful ‘Constellations’
NEW YORK (AP) — Boy meets girl — again and again, with different outcomes each time. Constellations may be fixed in our universe, but beneath them, the human race just might be living in multiple universes at the same time.
With impressive ingenuity, Nick Payne’s touching, playful drama “Constellations” takes on some big topics — the nature of time and mortality — through his unconventional presentation of a love story set in “the multiverse.”
Displaying a sweet chemistry together, Ruth Wilson — who on Sunday won a Golden Globe for her role in “The Affair” — plays a ditzy scientist named Marianne, while Jake Gyllenhaal is Roland, a down-to-earth beekeeper and Marianne’s potential new boyfriend. Beneath a haunting canopy of off-white helium balloons, as if on a bizarre speed-date, Roland and Marianne flash through a series of scenes playing and replaying various versions of their encounters that twist into different outcomes. They share awkward small talk, intimate conversations, or truly painful exchanges, taking the audience on a roller-coaster ride through a relationship that might never even have happened.
Despite abrupt scene and mood fluctuations, Gyllenhaal and Wilson perform the tricky repetitions and time shifts with breathtaking smoothness. Wilson expressively signals Marianne’s emotions, whether glee or mischief or heartbreaking vulnerability. Gyllenhaal’s performance is more opaque, yet he infuses Roland with decency and an earnest desire to communicate with the better-educated, more emotional Marianne.
They perform the same scene one time sober, another time as if drunk. One pivotal conversation is repeated entirely in sign language. Despite Payne’s witty, challenging structure, Michael Longhurst, who also directed the well-received London’s West End production, keeps everything comprehensible, on track and focused, creating lovely quiet moments amid the whirlwind.
The head-spinning repetition and numerous outcomes add both humor and pathos, as the audience comes to recognize pivotal moments in the couple’s relationship. Or relationships. Payne’s insightful methodology will surely leave the audience recalling some of their own “What if...?” moments.
The play, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, opened Tuesday night on Broadway at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater.