Review: "Constellations" at TheaterWorks

Tara Kennedy

  • OnStage Chief Connecticut Theatre Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle

TheaterWorks presents the unconventional work, Constellations, by British playwright Nick Payne. This play takes the “boy meets girl” story and turns it on its head: what happens if the boy and the girl meet over and over with circumstances ever so slightly different? It’s a play exploring choice and destiny; of finding and losing love; and it is powerful, compelling stuff.

There is a lot to love about this play about the infinitesimal possibilities of a relationship between two people. Constellations is a nonlinear script done well. It also has original music by Billy Bivona, performed live so that it breathes with the actors, that adds an additional layer of emotional depth. And the two actors who have the arduous task of motivation hopscotch are stellar.

The play centers around the relationship between two people: Marianne (Allison Pistorius) and Roland (M. Scott McLean). Events are not chronological; it centers around the relationship feasibilities between the pair, emphasizing the multiverse that Marianne studies (she is a physicist; Roland is a beekeeper). Imagine limitless instances of meeting, interacting, and reacting. There is a story line that comes through: a romantic relationship develops between the two, and a medical crisis occurs for Marianne, which affects her ability to communicate. It could devastate her life and career, and it already took the life of her mother.  The ending feels resolved, yet is open-ended, but it doesn’t matter.  

The fact that these two actors were former graduate school classmates probably adds to their chemistry and their nimbleness as performers. This script requires great concentration and precision (not to mention great direction), and these actors bring their “A” game. Even without a linear plot, I followed their stories with concern and interest; their stories are heartfelt, humorous, and honest – and my eyes welled up more than once. Rob Ruggiero’s skillful direction guides the actors to make a series of scenes, oft repeated, yet fresh each time; it is a perfectly woven arc of experiences and chances.

Set design by Jean Kim is understated, allowing the focus to be on the couple’s stories. It’s the lighting design by Philip S. Rosenberg that is most striking: many pendant lights hanging from the ceiling create a celestial space with blue glowing rings framing the round stage in the center.  The lights flicker in response to certain situations, adding to the emotional intensity of those scenes. Bivona’s music also highlights these moments, making the scenes that much more effective.  

I’m not a romantic by any stretch of the imagination, but I found this play beautiful and moving. It is thought-provoking yet chimerical, and crafted with such skill that it’s mesmerizing. I highly recommend catching this shooting star before it gone.