Photo by Joan Marcus
by Joel Benjamin
There is far less than meets the eye in
Nick Payne’s Constellations now at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel
J. Friedman Theatre. The exquisitely detailed performances by Jake Gyllenhaal
and Ruth Wilson cannot hide the dearth of material. Not even the brilliant
direction of Michael Longhurst nor the scintillatingly abstract set of Tom
Scutt, nor the sparkling lighting of Lee Curran can turn this pretentious
exercise in space/time manipulation into a substantial work of theatre.
Roland (Mr. Gyllenhaal), a beekeeper
meets and woos Marianne (Ms. Wilson) a physicist/professor. They live in what
the production disingenuously calls “The Multiverse” in the “Past, Present and
Future.” They have the usual ups and downs of reasonably young lovers
including discussing their professions, their pasts and their feelings. The
playwright takes about 15 minutes of conversation tidbits, repeats the dialogue,
virtually intact, with different lighting, different emotional readings, different
physical placements, giving the 70 minute work a false feeling of structure.
An extended conversation about kissing elbows—that is, the impossibility of
kissing elbows—goes on for about five minutes with all its permutations. A
marriage proposal is done every which way: standing, kneeling, facing each
other, facing away, making the characters feel like acting school students
working on a scene. About two-thirds of the way through this exercise in
repetition as drama, Mr. Payne introduces the requisite reliable gimmick of a
fatal illness which, again, is discussed in all its glorious ways.
It’s easy to be dazzled by the lithe,
piquant performances of the two stars. It all makes one wonder why the
playwright didn’t have enough trust in his characters, both undeniably
delightful, to write a straight forward romantic comedy. The gimmickry reeks
of trying too hard to be original. Sadly, Mr. Payne is decidedly not
original. These ideas were used before, most notably in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen
and David Ives’ All In the Timing which both used re-dos to better effect.
Heck, even Tom Stoppard explored this material in his quantum mechanics
inspired Hapgood and Arcadia, both of which played with the idea
of distorted time and place.
There’s no question that the Manhattan
Theatre Club has pulled no theatrical punches in staging Constellations.
The staging is definitely blessed by its talented actors, the director’s
acumen, and a physical production that nearly masks the underwhelming writing.
Constellations – through February 15, 2015
Manhattan Theatre Clubs at the Samuel J.
261 West 47th St., between 8th
Ave. & Broadway
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com or www.manhattantheatreclub.com
More Information: www.constellationsbroadway.com
Running time: 70 minutes, no