Review: A Stellar "Constellations"
Written by Nick Payne
Directed by Kim T. Sharp
Presented at the Gene Frankel Theatre
24 Bond Street, Manhattan, NYC
April 6-24, 2022
|Francesca Ravera and Michael Chinworth. Courtesy Alton PR|
Would you feel better or worse knowing that, for every choice that you regret making (or not making), there existed other versions of you who chose differently? Playwright and screenwriter Nick Payne's Constellations explores a man and woman's lives through a multiverse-spanning lens that highlights the way in which any individual existence comprises complex webs of causality and chance without detracting one jot from its characters' flirty, funny, contentious, aching humanity. Having made its debut in Payne's native Britain in 2012 and arrived on Broadway in 2015, this award-winning play has now come to Manhattan's intimate Gene Frankel Theatre in a superb revival directed by Kim T. Sharp.
Marianne (Francesca Ravera) and Roland (Michael Chinworth) meet (or, one assumes, don't) at a barbeque. Although a number of these meetings are a dead end, in some, Marianne's idiosyncratic icebreaker leads to more, including romantic interest. While it remains consistent that Marinne is a physicist at MIT and that Roland keeps bees, as the play cycles through variations on significant moments in their lives together (and apart), we see them making different choices, having different reactions (sometimes with the same words), and even switching roles in different versions of a given situation. Even as the elegantly structured narrative progresses through repetition with a difference, it also recurrently returns, like a spiraling galaxy, to one particular thread that cuts across a number of Marianne and Roland's incarnations, gradually adding more context. Different Mariannes may furnish conflicting versions of whether there is free will, but there is one area regarding which the versions of her converge in demanding at least the feeling of choice and control.
Subtle sound cues and shifts in the star-suggestive lights at the rear of the stage help to mark jumps across timelines. Otherwise, with only two characters and a stage bare except for a small hexagonal riser, the focus is on the actors, and Ravera and Chinworth deliver dazzling performances. They not only invest their Marianne(s) and Roland(s) with richness and immediacy but also expertly delineate the emotional inflections central to the multiversal movement of Constellations. The cumulative effect is captivating and impactful. The physicist in (one) Marianne raises the notion that from the point of view of atoms and molecules, time is irrelevant, with no distinction between past, present, and future, and the amount of it that we will have in our lives, and with another person, is already determined. But even if choice is only an illusion, make this a universe in which you decide to see this marvelous production.
-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards