Picture a fight you have with someone and how it can go ten different ways. If you had only said something different or used a different tone of voice, you may have ended up with an entirely different outcome…or not.
This is exactly what Nick Payne’s Constellations explores. Not just the concept, though; the 70-minute play examines the actual possibilities, the numerous pathways two characters can take in their relationship – all the potential ways a conversation can go when they first meet at a BBQ, when they consider spending the night together, when they’re faced with life-altering events.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Roland and (Golden Globe Winner!) Ruth Wilson as Marianne give wonderfully warm, generous, and connected performances. Watching this play is like being in an acting class with them because they’re playing these scenes over and over with a new interpretation each time. It’s all about tactics. When an actor approaches a scene, he or she has to figure out a) what do I want? and b) how am I going to get it? That’s what these two are doing in real time. They do eventually shift out of a certain scene and into another as they move forward in time (or do they?), but even when they’re saying the exact same words as the time before, it’s still fresh. And I believed them each time. The audience adapts to the new circumstances just as quickly as the characters do, and that is a testament to the writing.
When I go down the rabbit hole of thinking about other universes and how many lives I might be leading elsewhere, I start to get dizzy. The play asks questions like: do we have control over our fate? Does free will exist if we are just one version of ourselves and all the other “choices” we could make are simply playing out in another universe? And what about time itself? Are the past and future merely fabrications, only kept alive in our own minds?
There is an element of the play building on itself – the sound and lighting designs (both enticing) growing more intense and cutting – as things develop and the story(ies) become more clear. I did think, however, that it was building to something, and I don’t know if that something ever arrived. Should there be a catharsis of some kind? Is there an ending? How can there be an ending when there are over 50 stories potentially being told? Because of this, the play as a whole feels somewhat incomplete. Unfinished even.
But maybe that’s exactly the point.
Written by Nick Payne, Directed by Michael Longhurst
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Closing March 15th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson
Outside Mullingar is John Patrick Shanley’s newest play, and what a delight it is.
You likely know Shanley best from his 2005 Tony and Pulitzer prize-winning play Doubt, or perhaps his lesser-known work – but still a favorite of mine – the film Joe Versus the Volcano (check it out, it’s so weird). That Shanley can write such a range has always been noteworthy to me, and he’s done it yet again with this delightfully endearing piece. As Jenn, my companion for the day, joked afterward, “I think this guy’s got a real future.”
This production stars Debra Messing (of Will & Grace fame) and Brían F. O’Byrne (the always fantastic stage actor) as lifelong neighbors in the town of Mullingar, Ireland. It’s clear from their first scene that they’re meant to end up together, and we should simply sit back and enjoy the ride. So yes, it’s been rightly advertised as primarily a romantic comedy, but it also goes beyond the romance and covers larger themes (family struggles, death, madness). Watch some clips here.
There actually isn’t much I want to say about this play other than how much I liked it. You’ll see that the show speaks for itself. It’s so incredibly charming. Very, very funny. Great acting on all fronts. Excellent direction by Doug Hughes. An amazing, smart set design by John Lee Beatty. Plus the Production Stage Manager is my friend Winnie Lok!
It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you cry. It’ll surprise you. It’ll close on March 16th. See it if you can.
Written by John Patrick Shanley, Directed by Doug Hughes
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through March 16th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Brían F. O’Byrne and Debra Messing