Two major stars – Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson – make for a minor CONSTELLATIONS. This fresh opus by Nick Payne – who last brought us the annoying IF THERE IS I HAVEN’T FOUND IT YET (where the stage was flooded with water and furniture also starring Mr. G off Broadway) has the stage at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre figuratively flooded with a batch of balloons. White balloons. Hanging over the acting arena (same director: Michael Longhurst).
The kind of balloons that a visitor might bring to a patient in a hospital. Or are they molecules? Or enlarged ping pong balls representing the repetitive back and forth banter between our bearded hero – a beekeeper and our pony-tailed heroine – a Cambridge University physicist?
No. They are most definitely balloons. Filled with hot air. Keeping them afloat. Pity the sometimes robotic dialogue can’t do the same for the play. But is it a play? No. It is a series of quick scenes traversing the Multiverse – in the Past, Present and Future.
Too bad we never are clued in as to which is which or when and where we are on this intellectual blind date created by Mr. Payne between Roland and Marianne as we follow along with great difficulty their budding relationship – friendship – proposal of marriage with thoughts about mortality, sickness and death. Not a fun evening.
SPOILER ALERT: You might want to rent one of those hearing devices. Between the British accent and the acoustics of the Friedman it is hard to decipher what is being said. Perhaps it is ROW N that is the culprit. In any event if you miss words you will not know what is going on as it’s all in the dialogue. Quick. Fast paced. Scenes changing with the speed of light and sound as the actors take on new positions – standing or sitting or finger pointing. And finally silently “signing”.
From the abrupt entrance of the two stars with her tongue twisting “lick the tip of your elbow” business through their ballroom class and his lengthy bee speech and proposal to the abrupt ending a mere 70 thankful minutes from its start CONSTELLATIONS is a lot less than the sum of its parts sounding more and more like a broken record – the needle stuck in a grove of repeating the same theme over and over – with slight variations.
For the record Jake Gyllenhaal just has to stand on stage to be commanding. And that’s just what he mostly does here – when he is not sitting on the floor. He oozes charm and sexuality and endows Roland with a simplicity and honesty and quirkiness. His other half – Ruth Wilson needs to learn how to project. I missed too many of her words. I kept imagining Kristin Johnston from 3rd Rock from the Sun. Maybe it was all those balloons and other worldly music.
A Royal Court Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club presentation. Through March 15th.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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