The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
My levity and playwright Nick Payne's elusiveness aside, Constellations is a beautifully crafted two-hander with an intriguing premise, a brain and a stout heart. At the Geffen Playhouse, Giovanna Sardelli's production is as welcome as a calming summer breeze and Ginnifer Goodwin and Allen Leech work some chemistry that could fittingly be described as star-aligning.
Marianne (Goodwin) and Roland (Leech) meet at party. Motor-mouthed Marianne, a physicist, tries to chat up the quieter Roland, a beekeeper who makes honey for sale at private markets. "I'm in a relationship," Roland nervously retorts. Then the scene plays out again with altered dialogue and Roland is slightly more receptive to Marianne's advances. And on take three, he's all in on the idea of them hooking up.
Over the next 80 intermission-less minutes, Roland and Marianne's relationship plays out across an array of imagined possibilities. Maybe they will end up together or perhaps they won't.
In the logic of Constellations, their fates will be what their fates will be, but the means of arrival varies. Depending on their circumstances and corresponding choices, Marianne and Roland will act differently and even be slightly different characters. In any scenario, the brassy academic and the working class bee man are both in for some pretty serious pain and heartache.
Payne's not-always-linear structure proves easy to follow, and it's not as though we are being set up for Groundhog Day Redux here. The playwright is noodling around with a theory of quantum physics, which Marianne explains by holding two couch cushions apart to show that any and all possibilities play out simultaneously in a series of parallel existences.
It's not clear whether Marianne and Roland entirely buy into this idea. They don't have to; they're living it. And when events take a turn for the worse, Marianne can take a certain comfort in the idea that conventional notions of time don't apply. The life cycle of bees have some applications to this situation as well, which Roland explains during a speech to Marianne that is meant to serve a different purpose than what it first appears to be.
A bank of round, star-like bulbs (designed by Lap Chi Chu) changes colors to cue the quantum jumps. The accompanying gentle whoosh of Lindsay Jones's sound makes it seem as though the entire stage is taking a breath.
Emotions run strong in this play, but the production's overall tone is soft, almost surreal. Sardelli, who recently directed Rajiv Joseph's satirical history play Archduke at the Mark Taper Forum, works in a completely different mode here. Clearly the lady can negotiate love amidst the stars as skillfully as World War I politics.
Leech (late of Downton Abbey) and Goodwin (Big Love) are as comfortably matched as performers as their characters are mismatched. Roland and Marianne probably move in different social and professional circles, but they get each other. With her short, bobbed hair and red cardigan, Goodwin projects openness and vulnerability rather than the intimidation of a Cambridge brainiac. Leech's sweet and slightly rumpled Roland finds her irresistible. How could he not?
The pairing of its two stars under Sardelli's guidance makes an already interesting play shine all the more brightly. A work that could have been a lightly comic gimmick is instead a work deservedly bound for more multiple regional theater productions. Kudos to playwright Payne who has written both a love story that tickles the cerebellum and a brainy play that makes you swoon.
Search CurtainUp in the box below
Constellations by Nick Payne
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin and Allen Leech
Scenic Design: Takeshi Kata
Costume Design: Denitsa Bliznakova
Lighting Design: Lap Chi Chu
Original Music and Sound Design: Lindsay Jones
Dramaturg: Rachel Wiegardt-Egel
Stage Manager: Julie Haber
Plays through July 23, 2017 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com
Running time: One hour and twenty minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):
Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.
For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted at http://curtainupnewlinks.blogspot.com to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter