Review by Tom Millward
13 January 2015
After discovering that the lenth of the play comes to a swift 70 minutes, my mind couldn't help but promptly calculate that to sit in one of the better seats at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre would end up costing you around $2 per minute of action. Undoubtedly many theatregoers are more than willing to pay the price for the simple reason of seeing Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal, along with newly crowned Golden Globe winner and two-time Olivier Award winner Ruth Wilson, up close and personal. As I took my seat on the front row of the Orchestra, I was secretly grateful that it would be impossible to get any closer, save invading the stage halfway through.
In the case of British playwright Nick Payne's 'Constellations,' here in its Broadway premiere after successful runs at London's Royal Court Theatre (starring Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins) and a West End transfer to the Duke of York's Theatre in 2012, the length of the play is ideal. The two-hander would suffer if Payne had drawn proceedings out any longer. The infinite possibilities of the relationship between the play's protagonists hold our attention perfectly through mixtures of emotions and pace over the course of the 70 minutes.
Marianne, herself (conveniently) a quantum physicist at Cambridge University, explains:
“At any given moment, several outcomes can coexist simultaneously.”
Indeed this encompasses the essence of the whole play. Marianne (Wilson) and Roland (Gyllenhaal), an enthusiastic beekeeper, portray a multitude of parallell universes on stage, where every piece of dialogue leads to different possibile outcomes. We see first hand how circumstances and decision-making so profoundly affect the courses of our lives.
Fear not those of us who haven't got a Scooby Doo when it comes to quantum physics, as the play is much more appealing as a moving love story than a study of complicated scientific theories. Whether or not an audience connects with this love story is, of course, heavily dependents on the two actors bringing it to life.
Ruth Wilson does a tremendous job in the more lively and erratic of the two roles, showing off her great range of emotions and switching from high stakes to low stakes (and back again) seemlessly. Jake Gyllenhaal offers the perfect counterpart, portraying the calmer character so effortlessly, but also drawing you in during moments of his frustration and desperation. The chemistry between the two actors is genuinely touching, as Marianne and Roland interact at times playfully, and ultimately so heartachingly defenseless, with each other.
The production is kept simple: two actors, one stage, surrounded by luminiscent white balloons, which glow between short scenes, signifying alternate universes. Director Michael Longhurst avoids any distractions in this manner from the heart of the piece - the acting itself.
It could be argued that this production could more readily be seen off-Broadway (or even could be performed in the smallest of off-off-Broadway venues), and could be regarded as an acting excercise for two aspiring actors auditioning for drama school, being re-directed at every possible occasion to show the full range of their skills and emotions. However, to justify a spot on the Great White Way, you need the essential ingredient of two outstanding performances, and in the case of Wilson and Gyllenhaal, both making their Broadway debuts here, they certainly deliver.
"Who knew that higher physics could be so sexy, so accessible — and so emotionally devastating?"
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"A compact play with big ideas about life, love and death that is, happily, as brainy as it is sweet-hearted."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"At times the show feels more like a conceptual stunt than anything else, especially with its conclusion. But Wilson and Gyllenhaal place it in a universe where Broadway vehicles have heart."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Despite the play's brainy patter, it never feels like it's going over our heads. More than anything else, "Constellations" is a touching love story, a deeply universal one - or should I say, multiversal?"
Roma Torre for NY1
"The 70-minute play – the length is perfect – has been directed with great skill and sensitivity by Michael Longhurst, who also staged the work in London."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Smartly paced by the director, the play’s multiple modulations are enhanced by set designer Tom Scutt, who simply floats a spot in the dark universe amid luminescent balloons representing atoms, molecules and worlds of time."
Michael Sommers for New Jersey Newsroom
"Constellations is the first Broadway opening of the year and it sets the bar high. Would that more plays were as compact and lively, as intellectually and emotionally stimulating as this one."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"Although barely an hour long, this baby bombshell by hot Brit scribe Nick Payne... overflows with emotional highs and lows."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...