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Constellations

A Boy Meets Girl story is depicted in this fascinating British romantic drama, inspired by theories of physics, that is imaginatively presented and is graced by two stellar performances.

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Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson in a scene from “Constellations” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson in a scene from “Constellations” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

So you’ve these two theories that are completely at odds with each other.  Relativity covers the sun, the moon, the stars, while quantum mechanics takes care of molecules, quarks, atoms—that sort of thing.  We’ve effectively asked the same question twice and came up two completely different answers. 

That is really sexy by the way.

British playwright Nick Payne’s Constellations is a compelling fresh take on the eternal Boy Meets Girl setup.

The stage is totally black and filled with white balloons with dangling curly strings, and stationary balloon lamps, all suggesting a cosmic universe.  A young couple enters, stand on a slightly raised platform, and for 70 fast paced minutes the many possibilities and vicissitudes of their relationship are depicted.  Marianne is a physicist and Roland is a beekeeper who meets at a mutual friend’s barbecue in England.

Courtship, settling down, infidelity, personality clashes, breakups, reconciliations and catastrophic illness are among life’s challenges the couple grapple with.

The notion of parallel universes with characters in a variety of scenarios has long been a staple of literature and movies and is here given a dynamic rendering.

This is theatrically accomplished through staccato repetition of dialogue with slight variations to show other the possibilities of the outcome.  Dramatic lighting shifts, celestial modern music, and frenetic staging, all are utilized to present the theory of multiverses.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s star quality and photogenic face has been evident in numerous films, and his stage presence is equally commanding in this, his Broadway debut.  Using an excellent British accent he charismatically conveys all of the character’s volatile moods and emotions.

Having won two Olivier Awards for roles on the London stage and recently receiving the Golden Globe for her part in the television series The Affair, emerging young British actress Ruth Wilson also makes her Broadway debut.  The combination of her feistiness, comic timing and alluring physicality makes this a rich and beautiful performance.  The chemistry between her and Mr. Gyllenhaal is tremendously palpable, and that contributes in allowing this production to truly succeed.

The unison of the work of the production team is immersive and inspired. Scenic and costume designer Tom Scutt, lighting designer Lee Curran, sound designer David McSeveney and composer Simon Slater, all fantastically realize the visual and aural sense of being in a dimension separate from simple reality.

Director Michael Longhurst rigorously manages all of the theatrical elements into a seamless presentation.  The special effects never overwhelm but always enhance the plot.  This production’s vivid performances and bold environmental landscape are testaments to his great talent.  He previously directed the author’s play, If There Is I Haven’t Found it Yet, Off-Broadway that also featured Gyllenhaal, so that their affinity is strong.

In 2012, this play won London’s the 2012 Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play and was nominated for the 2013 Olivier Award Best New Play.  Among the several other awards Nick Payne has received is the second annual Harold Pinter award, designed to support a newly commissioned play for London’s Royal Court Theatre.

That particular prize is most fitting, for this play is very reminiscent of Pinter’s style.  The precise yet extravagant dialogue, intense examination of relationships between men and women, and experimenting beyond linear structure are perhaps inspirational here, but never imitative.  There is also the spirit of Tom Stoppard in the occasionally dense scientific passages that recall his slyly detailed wordplay.

With Constellations, Nick Payne has deftly created a unique and very moving romantic work in the tradition of modern British playwrights that is universally appealing.

Constellations (through March 15th, 2015)

Manhattan Theatre Club and The Royal Court Theatre

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com

Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (584 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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