You might want to check out a copy of Neil deGrasse’s current bestseller, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” before catching “Constellations”, Nick Payne’s smart and sexy two-hander currently on stage at TheaterWorks in Hartford. Reading a couple chapters about the space/time continuum and quantum mechanics couldn’t hurt either.
Don’t panic. “Constellations” isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. Directed by Rob Ruggiero and clocking in just under a breathless 80 minutes, “Constellations” is the eternal boy-meets-girl story times infinity. It had a starry 2015 production on Broadway with Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal that drew raves. At TheaterWorks the acting duo is in the accomplished hands of Allison Pistorius and M. Scott McLean who, if they aren’t in love, sure are convincing. Roland (McLean) is a beekeeper and Marianne (Pistorius) is a Cambridge University academic specializing in “theoretical early universe cosmology” who meet at a mutual friend’s barbecue. We then see their courtship play out in a variety of different scenarios where, sometimes, the juxtaposing of words or attitude will completely change the outcome of the relationship. Okay, yeah, I can see your eyes rolling to the back of your head already, but stick with “Constellations” and you’ll be treated to a love story of infinite wisdom and humanity.
Payne’s basic premise looks at all those variables about how and why we connect with each other and “Constellations” eventually takes us on a whirlwind flight that will be familiar to anyone who has ever lived and loved on this planet. The play probably does live or die on the talents of its actors and both McLean (so memorable in TheaterWorks’ delightful production of “Midsummer” in 2016) and Pistorius manage to make what can seem like an outsized acting exercise into something resembling true love. Watch this couple as they time and again make subtle yet distinct changes in character, physicality and motivation in the alternate scenarios the playwright has written for them. Their chemistry is palpable every time.
Mr. Ruggiero shakes things up with this production staging it in the round (a first, I believe, for this theatre) giving the cozy TheaterWorks environment even more intimacy. The mostly bare stage designed by Jean Kim is augmented by some beautiful lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg and sound by Michael Miceli. A special treat is composer/musician Billy Bivona whose live guitar performance during the production adds yet another layer of expression to the metaphysical romance.
“Constellations” is the kind of small and personal two-hander that was designed for theatre companies just like TheaterWorks. In this current incarnation, it seems very much at home in Hartford.
“Constellations” has already been extended at TheaterWorks through February 22, 2018. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.