TheaterWorks is currently presenting an absolute beauty of a production of Nick Payne’s deeply romantic play, “Constellations.” With just two superb actors on stage and the theatre reconfigured to have the audience surrounding the stage on all sides, this show passes by like a gorgeous dream. “Constellations” was produced on Broadway back in 2015, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson as the two leads, and the show earned stellar reviews from the New York critics.
This is notable to mention because, after seeing this current production, with the leads portrayed by the terrific and moving M. Scott McLean and Allison Pistorius, it is hard to imagine anyone else playing these roles. What’s more, TheaterWorks has commissioned Billy Bivona to compose and play a new score especially created for this production and it only adds to the dreamy effect that “Constellations” radiates from beginning to end. Besides the two actors, the real hero of the evening is director Rob Ruggiero, who has done a simply brilliant job staging this play. For a night of pure pleasure, I doubt that you really could do better than TheaterWorks’ presentation of “Constellations.”
It should be noted that Nick Payne’s play is really unusual, considering that it doesn’t involve a lot of action or even a linear plot. Instead, “Constellations” is made up of a magical collection of extremely short scenes and moments, often with the two characters saying the same lines over and over again, but employing different ways of saying them. This may sound frustratingly repetitive, but it actually has the opposite effect: one can hardly wait to see and hear the same words repeated over and over, with different line readings, body language, and emotions creating startling disparate effects.
The plot (such as it is) concerns two characters, Roland and Marianne, essentially meeting and falling in love. But, in “Constellations” they seem to meet over and over again, with each scene being radically different than the one before (even when they are repeating the same words to each other). Actually, it is pretty difficult to explain exactly what happens during this show. One is better off just falling under the spell of this work and going with it.
The two actors are evenly matched and both give sublime performances. M. Scott McLean, who was so good in “Midsummer (a play with songs)” at TheaterWorks last season, is even better here as Roland, an extremely charming beekeeper. As Marianne, Allison Pistorius plays a physicist and she is just lovely. Somehow, though, the combination of the two performers together creates a kind of existential enchantment that is more than the sum of its parts.
“Constellations” is the kind of play that requires a precise directorial touch, or, I’m afraid the whole show would just simply fall apart. Thankfully, Rob Ruggiero is on hand and he brings a crystalline precision to this show, as well as a wealth of empathy and even a sense of alchemy. Indeed, the director creates the ideal ambiance for a kind of transcendence to occur and his two actors work in complete harmony with him. The overall effect is just wonderful.
Lasting just 75 minutes, with no intermission, “Constellations” at TheaterWorks is simply outstanding, with a warmth and depth of feeling that stayed with me long after the show had ended. “Constellations” is truly the kind of theatrical experience where everything coalesces perfectly and this play also stands as one of the most overwhelmingly romantic works I have ever seen. Simply to bask in its exquisite glow, “Constellations” is most highly recommended.
“Constellations” continues performances at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through February 18, 2018. For tickets, please visit www.theaterworkshartford.org or call the box office at 860-527-7838.
Photo: (L-R): M. Scott McLean and Allison Pistorius
Photo by Lanny Nagler