Review Roundup: CONSTELLATIONS Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

By: Jan. 13, 2015
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The American premiere of Constellations, the acclaimed new play by Nick Payne, directed by Michael Longhurst (If There Is...), starring Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (Golden Globe nominee for Nightcrawler; Brokeback Mountain) and two-time Olivier Award winner Ruth Wilson (Golden Globe winner for Showtime's "The Affair"; BBC's and PBS's Emmy nominated "Luther"), opens on Broadway tonight, January 13 at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

This spellbinding, romantic journey begins with a simple encounter between a man and a woman (Gyllenhaal and Wilson). But what happens next defies the boundaries of the world we think we know -- delving into the infinite possibilities of their relationship and raising questions about the difference between choice and destiny.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Who knew that higher physics could be so sexy, so accessible -- and so emotionally devastating? "Constellations," Nick Payne's gorgeous two-character drama, starring a perfectly matched Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, may be the most sophisticated date play Broadway has staged by its original director, Michael Longhurst, "Constellations" has been scaled up without bloat, and it's every bit as affecting as I remember...It's no surprise that Ms. comfortable with her role's demands. But Mr. Gyllenhaal, whose theater experience is more limited, is every bit as persuasive. They are both fluent in the awkward body language of nerds in love, and in the crossed signals of emotional ambivalence. But they use contrasting and complementary physical vocabularies to balance, gracefully and clumsily, shifts in power and longing, aggression and retreat.

Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press: With impressive ingenuity, Nick Payne's touching, playful drama "Constellations" takes on some big topics -- the nature of time and mortality -- through his unconventional presentation of a love story set in "the multiverse"...Roland and Marianne flash through a series of scenes playing and replaying various versions of their encounters that twist into different outcomes...Despite abrupt scene and mood fluctuations, Gyllenhaal and Wilson perform the tricky repetitions and time shifts with breathtaking smoothness. Wilson expressively signals Marianne's emotions, whether glee or mischief or heartbreaking vulnerability. Gyllenhaal's performance is more opaque, yet he infuses Roland with decency and an earnest desire to communicate with the better-educated, more emotional Marianne...Despite Payne's witty, challenging structure, Michael Longhurst...keeps everything comprehensible, on track and focused, creating lovely quiet moments amid the whirlwind.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: A romantic two-hander spun out of string theory, in which the significant moments of a couple's life together are played out in different directions across infinite parallel paths? That sounds on paper like a cerebral exercise, designed to test audiences' concentration while actors flex their muscles. But British playwright Nick Payne's beguiling Constellations is not only a full-bodied narrative, it's a richly affecting experience. That's thanks to the sensitivity of the writing, but also to the warmth, humor and vitality invested in it by Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, giving two astonishing performances in a production from Michael Longhurst that's as rigorous as it is tender.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Short and sweet and strangely haunting. That's the quick take on "Constellations"...Gyllenhaal has the charm and good looks of a leading man, but he's also got the acting chops of a chameleon character actor...Here he gets to play someone whose character changes from minute to minute, and he's pretty amazing. So is Wilson...Her style as the brilliant, desperately needy Marianne is mercurial -- and enchanting...The important point here is that the devilishly clever scribe is not playing games with either his characters or his audience, because with each iteration Roland and Marianne grow closer to one another -- and become more important to us. And by the end of the play (has it really been only an hour?), we're fully invested in their lives. All of them.

Linda Winer, Newsday: One danger in describing "Constellations" -- and there are more than a few -- is that Nick Payne's time-traveling, two-character, 70-minute invention will sound like a technical gimmick. Another peril would be to let his way of repeating short scenes with different emphases suggest just an acting exercise. Or worse, upon learning that the action takes place in "The Multiverse" of the "Past, Present and Future" and that a character is a quantum cosmologist, one could be excused for dreading a physics lesson. In fact, with actors less compelling and unpretentiously appealing as Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, it's likely that this deeply moving and unpredictable romance would never have made it to Broadway at all. But here they are, making their dazzling Broadway debuts as characters who, despite the brevity of the evening, make us feel as if we have been through countless possible ups and downs in a very real, intimate relationship.

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: As much as it's about theoretical physics, it's also about the progress of any ordinary life, which begins with seemingly endless possibilities and then dwindles until death forecloses further choice. I wish I'd seen Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall in the London debut, but the director Michael Longhurst has found very fine replacements in Gyllenhaal and Wilson. They have a lovely time playing with the script and with each other -- Wilson with her pointy, pouty features and wonderfully manic energy, Gyllenhaal with his bushy beard and earthier charms. He relies perhaps a bit heavily on blokiness and she on intensity, but they ably vary the mood of each new scene. And though the play fixes on physics, rest assured the chemistry is ample. If Longhurst's direction is somewhat invisible...he has created an environment in which the actors feel comfortable taking risks and chances and turns.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: Inspired by quantum mechanics, Nick Payne's captivating play, directed crisply by Michael Longhurst, explores the idea of parallel universes in a mosaic of scenes that often restart and branch off in new directions, skipping forward and backward in time...Beekeeper Roland (Gyllenhaal) and cosmologist Marianne (Wilson) are on-again, off-again lovers: in some worlds on, in some worlds off. Their relationship and its challenges -- infidelity, illness, death -- vary in ways that sometimes reflect nuances of their behavior and sometimes stem from forces beyond their control...Informed by authors like Jorge Luis Borges and Caryl Churchill, Constellations is smart but not dry; its focus is on the personal and emotional, and Gyllenhaal and Wilson reboot themselves convincingly at every stutter and turn. They're wonderfully multiversatile.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "Constellations" takes a little more work to follow than, say, "If/Then"...As it turns out, cues aren't so necessary. That's partly because "Constellations" forsakes any linear quality for sheer chaos...It's also because the actors are so confident and well-paced (and clearly having fun) that you never doubt how they're playing any moment...The actors give true tour-de-force performances...Wilson...duels and parries with her partner to memorable effect, whether she's a sloppily emotional figure out on a first date, or an academic methodically enchanted by the mysteries of the universe. That's a tightrope to walk. Both really have to know this script like a comfortable old sweatshirt, they're wiggling around in it so much...Gyllenhaal and Wilson, with all of their many sides, are a dynamic pairing no matter which direction they're coming at us from.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Jake Gyllenhaal and "The Affair's" Golden Globe winner Ruth Wilson ace their Broadway debuts in "Constellations," a compact play with big ideas about life, love and death that is, happily, as brainy as it is sweet-hearted...It's like being in an echo chamber filled with fun-house mirrors and can be a bit off-putting -- at least until the structural framework makes itself evident. Payne makes sure that it does, and that everyone's on the same page...director Michael Longhurst's staging touches both the head and the heart deeply. Even Tom Scutt's lovely set, a bare stage below and beside a huge collection of inflated white balloons, packs a poetic touch. And the cast is swoon-worthy. Gyllenhaal is laid-back and ever-genunine as the passive Roland. Wilson, a two-time Olivier Award winner, is sensual and irresistibly carefree -- a perfect foil. Together, they have something elusive: combustible chemistry. Heavenly sparks ensue.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Rarely has quantum physics felt as romantic, as lively as it does in Broadway's "Constellations"...We constantly seesaw between sweet and sour, comic and tragic, romantic and pedestrian as the actors jump back and forth between story lines...Director Michael Longhurst's understated staging helps us differentiate the assorted versions, but the entire show rests on the two actors, both making their Broadway debut. subtly wonderful in the less showy role. The earthy Roland tends to be the calm sort, though in some variations he reveals petulance and frustration. But mostly Roland is a sounding board for Marianne, a socially awkward type who covers her nervousness with cringe-inducing bad jokes. The British-born Wilson is tremendous here...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.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Constellations...will pull you in well before its 70 minutes have ended, leaving you shaken and stirred. Payne is interested in big subjects and ideas -- not just human connection, but mortality, which is at issue in the play's most haunting, intimate and cosmic concerns are woven together with such grace that they seem inextricable. Repeatedly in Constellations, the playwright mines the profundity in the most seemingly mundane conversations...Gyllenhaal, whose performance is as disciplined as it is vigorous, instills the questions with the kind of barely controlled desperation they demand. an irresistibly vital presence, veering from loose-limbed goofiness to earthy sensuality as Marianne seduces Roland with her knowledge of atoms and molecules. Later, when her plight and theirs darkens, she is at once movingly fragile and stoic, assuring him, "We have all the time we've ever had."

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Gyllenhaal proved himself an irresistible stage actor a few years ago in another Nick Payne play, If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, playing the rude, crude but immensely sympathetic uncle of a fat girl with uncomprehending parents. Wilson won her Golden Globe for The Affair and she has an off-kilter comic sensibility that works beautifully with her grounded co-star. They have great chemistry and charm here, even when saying and doing preposterous things, frequently at the same time. I was rooting for them all the way. Under Michael Longhurst's timing-is-everything direction, they work very hard at this repeated-scene business, which can't be easy. As an exercise in physical comedy, Constellations is a neat trick. But call it a trick or call it an exercise, it's never much more than either, and a challenge to take seriously.

Matt Windman, AM New York: The 70-minute play is structured like the films "Memento" and "Sliding Doors" and the Broadway musical "If/Then," with variations on the same scenes being explored based on different choices that the characters might make, as per the theme of infinite possibilities. After dozens of short scenes and stops and starts, plus many lighting changes and a few balloons falling to the ground, the relationship has seemingly come full circle. The play manages to feel slight and jam-packed at the same time, combining an uninteresting boy-meets-girl romance and a well-worn premise of right turn versus left turn with a hard-to-follow structure. I actually found myself more interested in figuring out the symbolism of the set design than in following the plot. It at least allows Gyllenhaal and Wilson to engage in a variety of dramatic scenarios under demanding circumstances, though Wilson easily outshines Gyllenhaal with her astonishing vibrancy.

Roma Torre, NY1: Nick Payne's compelling drama is one for the heart just as much as the mind...The setting for the "The Multiverse," past, present and future. As Marianne explains, cosmologists see time as an illusion; and so the theory is put into dramatic practice by showing us how each encounter can be re-played adjusting to changes in verbal nuance or personality. It's a heady conceit, and in the wrong hands, the constant repetition could be a drag - but under Michael Longhurst's splendid, balloon strewn staging, I found it most compelling. But if that doesn't blow your mind, the wonderfully fine-tuned performances will...And without sacrificing characterization, they both expertly maneuver through each new scene shift, revealing how love, that immutable force of nature, transcends the laws of time and space.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Would you like to see a two-hander in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays a hunky but bashful British beekeeper, hemming and half-smiling, while Ruth Wilson, so recently embaubled with a Golden Globe for The Affair, plays a charmingly ditzy astrophysicist? Would you like to watch the pair meet cute at a barbecue, grope their way toward romance, survive infidelity, and face tragedy together? I would; it sounds like an engaging play. Unfortunately it's not the one now running at the Manhattan Theatre Club under the title Constellations, even though all those things do happen in it. But since Nick Payne, the author, is unwilling to give us that romantic trifle, this delightful, beautifully acted, and infuriating new drama is so much more, and less.

Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly: Roland, a beekeeper -- a job that exists only in Metaphorical Theater -- isn't so sure. ''If everything I'm ever gonna do already exists,'' he asks, ''what's the point?'' You may wonder the same thing watching Payne's thought-provoking but flawed 70-minute puzzler. Despite a radical structure -- the standout scene is performed in sign-language -- it's too much like something we've seen before. The time-is-a-flat-circle conceit has been overplayed in pop culture of late...Wilson is brilliant, dramatically altering key moments with the tiniest of inflections, and Gyllenhaal brings psychological depth to Roland. But that subtlety is upended by a heavy-handed finale, which is less an emotional breakthrough than philosophical trickery. While you're waiting for Constellations to grab and shake you, it's trying to lick its own elbows. B-

Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: The pleasure of the evening lies in the way it is both eminently sensible and completely nonsensical. Details accumulate sufficiently to explain character and plot, while throwing us so off-guard as to make questions of narrative moot...Each segment of the story is replayed several times, indicating that we live in a multiverse, where notions of singular time are redundant, while we must endure the routine of daily life, where split-second differences in timing can spell connection or loneliness...Even in its commendable brevity the production occasionally feels like an extended acting-class exercise. Wilson and Gyllenhaal are tasked with showing us how the slightest shift in emphasis can alter a line's meaning. Wilson has the more commanding stage technique while the approach of Gyllenhaal is more halting and affectionate. Their chemistry is palpable.

Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: If "Constellations" begins as something of an amusing theatrical stunt, it evolves into something much more powerful, as we eventually connect to Marianne and Roland as individuals facing something we all share - mortality. The actors are extremely enticing.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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