Science vs. Romance: "Constellations" on Broadway

Constellations0163r2sc"Constellations" Who:  Manhattan Theatre Club

When: Through March 15

Where: Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York NY 10036

Tickets: $115-$155

Review by: Haley Chouinard

What if time is an illusion and everything that you’ve ever and never done exists in a multiverse beyond your comprehension?

This is the premise of “Constellations,” the revelatory play now in previews at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. It is set in the so-called multiverse during the past, present and future. The story follows two lovers, Roland and Marianne, played superbly by Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, and the infinite possibilities of a single relationship. This is a universe where everything that can happen happens.Constellations0008r3sc-400x703

For every interaction this couple has, the audience is presented with multiple scenarios. In the first scene, Roland and Marianne meet at a party and it doesn’t go well. Then, after an abrupt lighting change, the same scene begins again and the pair hits it off. The play continues this way, with every scene occurring several times, each having a different tone and, consequently, a new result.

It’s a lot to take in. But, thanks in no small part to the excellent directing by Michael Longhurst, the play quickly falls into a rhythm that makes it easy to follow.Constellations0023rsc

Only two actors as adept and capable as Gyllenhaal and Wilson, both making their Broadway debuts, could handle a play such as this. Both actors demonstrate an outstanding ability to switch from being softly funny to hauntingly emotional within the span of a lighting cue. These are actors who excel with unusual material. Take Gyllenhaal’s performance as the manic Lou Bloom in the film “Nightcrawler” or Wilson’s eerie calm as sociopath Alice Morgan on the BBC show “Luther.” Weird is their sweet spot.

Working from a remarkable script by Nick Payne, “Constellations” is at once vastly strange and immensely relatable. There is an earnestness in Payne’s dialogue that so accurately reflects the way we interact with one another. One of the definitive scenes begins with the seemingly innocuous question — “Why didn’t you answer my text?” We’ve all been there and Payne knows it. He takes an ordinary argument that people have all the time and presents it in an extraordinary way. It’s stunning to watch.

This play can be frustrating at times, simply because it isn’t predictable. It’s not as clear-cut as two people falling in love. It’s two people falling in love again and again. You won’t be able to figure it all out immediately. But, much like looking at actual constellations in the night sky, the longer you look, the more you’ll be able to see.