This review was originally published to Broadway World on August 11, 2016.
Lights blink up on Marianne and Roland, two strangers trying to blend in at a friend's barbeque. Marianne breaks the ice, but Roland is in a relationship. Blackout. Lights blink up on Marianne and Roland, two strangers trying to blend in at a friend's barbeque. Marianne breaks the ice, but Roland just got out of a serious relationship. Blackout. Lights blink up on Marianne and Roland, two strangers trying to blend in at a friend's barbeque. Marianne breaks the ice, but Roland is married. Blackout. Lights blink up on Marianne and Roland, two strangers trying to blend in at a friend's barbeque. Marianne breaks ice and they begin to chat.
Nick Payne's Constellations uses the hypothetical existence of a multiverse and applies it to the coupling of Marianne and Roland over and over again. A multiverse is the scientific theory that challenges physics and suggests all consequences of our lives are living symmetrically on a plane and the outcome is an endless roll of the dice. We witness the action progressing them forward in life as it consistently resets, skews or diverts dramatically. Boy meets girl is no longer a simple narrative. What sounds like a storytelling gimmick, expediently becomes throbbing unsuspecting drama that is as intimate as is it vast. Perhaps I would have paid attention in high school science if it was taught to me this way.
Nick Payne's Constellations, which opened at the Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre on August 5, is a grand slam success and ranks as the best to come out the Berkshires to date this summer. Director Gregg Edelman's staging is masterfully disciplined and the action contained on a raised circular platform is perfectly paced. Edelman combines organic performances with Payne's modern surrealism and places both in a world of extreme minimalism. A blank set. Two props. Two Actors. That's it. Alan Edwards designed the geometric set and his nimble lighting is a helpful resource for keeping up with the abrupt changes in reality.
This two-handed play would suffer no greater death if its two actors failed to connect onstage. Luckily for us, Tony nominated Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat are exquisite together as Marianne and Roland. The real-life couple have previously appeared together in Berkshire Theatre Group's A Little Night Music (2014) and Bells Are Ringing (2015). Both have venerable musical theatre careers and use the experience to unearth the cadence of Payne's rich dialogue. Ms. Baldwin and Mr. Rowat deliver fully embodied performances with enough nuance and subtext to allow for any of the universes depicted onstage to be expanded into a full-length play.
Earlier in the summer, I attended Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Nick Payne's Incognito. I was shocked at the playwright's ability to make science riveting for everyone in attendance. Constellations manages to affect a wide range of patrons as well as Incognito did. Perhaps Payne's greatest gift as a writer is giving us well researched plays that never sound pompous or condescending. A playwright's craft of effectively communicating to the audience on an even level is what makes a play art and Payne has mastered that craft.
Constellations success pulls ahead of Incognito with its accessibility being a two-way street. It's obvious by now the artists involved have a direct path from the the play to the audience, but a direct path also exists from the play to the artists. Constellations' meta-reality allows itself to be performed by actors of any gender, race, and age in endless combinations. I anticipate a multiverse of casting for future productions of Constellations. For now, the team of artists assembled by Berkshire Theatre Group, lead by Gregg Edelman and starring Kate Baldwin & Graham Rowat is one helluva dice roll.