BWW Review: CONSTELLATIONS at Theaterworks

BWW Review: CONSTELLATIONS at TheaterworksThere is a lot about the universe that we don't know. Could we be living in just one version of a life with infinite possibilities? And in that scenario what stays constant and what changes? What is the impact of a small change in tone or a choice of words to the outcomes of life? These are just some of the questions being brilliantly addressed in Theaterworks' production of Nick Payne's mind (and universe) bending play CONSTELLATIONS.

The central conceit of CONSTELLATIONS is that the audience is witnessing the relationship of two people, Marianne (Allison Pistorius) and Roland (M Scott McLean) via snippets of their lives. They meet at a barbeque, they experience the awkward phase of an early relationship and the rocky periods later. But this is not your typical linear girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl meets boy again, kind of story. Allison, a Cambridge researcher in theoretical physics introduces the central concept of CONSTELLATIONS early in the script when she begins her relationship with Roland, a beekeeper. What if we are all living only one of an infinite number of realities that diverge and divert with each choice, large or small. What the audience then sees are the potential and possible lives of these two would be lovers at various points in their relationship, and how minor differences in their interactions impact the tone and outcomes. For example, when they first meet he is married, then he isn't, then he's in a relationship, then he's not. All in the same scene. Confused? It does make more sense as you experience it live, but it is certainly a unique and daring concept.

In CONSTELLATIONS, the audience is asked to step outside their comfort zone and BWW Review: CONSTELLATIONS at Theaterworkssimply take in the dialogue and action in small doses, gradually piecing together a story over the course of the 70 minutes of the play. We often see the same conversation multiple times (and sometimes out of order), with minor nuances changed each time. First a character may be aggressive, the next time a bit more timid, the third time they might choose a different line or use a slightly different expression. It makes for a fascinating study of human interaction, as well as the higher levels of physics at play.

As the two characters, Roland and Marianne, Mr. McLean and Ms. Pistorius tackle Nick Payne's script head on. It must be challenging to deliver the same scene over and over with only slight differences or word choices and keep it all straight. The two win over the audience quickly, without the standard approach of gradual character and story development. Their emotional highs are quite believable (as are their British accents) and they both convey the quirks of a complex relationship with ease. They have comical and serious moments throughout and deliver both with skill. And, in the end, the audience is given the rare opportunity to decide for themselves how the story might end (infinite possibilities, remember?)

While Nick Payne's boundary defying script and the way the two actors bring it to life might be the heart of the play, but in Theaterworks' production, the unique and perfectly situated set provides the framework and the platform (literally) for the action. Jean Kim's circular stage placed right in the middle of the theater (creating a theater in the round setup) amplifies the focus of the audience on the action and adds its own bit of tension into the mix. Without any set pieces (except a couple strategically placed benches on the periphery) the audience feels like it is immersed in the dream-like world of the two characters. This is punctuated by Phillip Rosenberg and Michael Miceli's Lighting and Sound Design. Director Rob Ruggiero utilizes the circular setting brilliantly, moving the actors around from scene to scene illustrating the infinite possibilities and nuanced choices that these two characters make throughout.

BWW Review: CONSTELLATIONS at TheaterworksAnother unique and quite effective choice is to have all the music and sound effects (referred to as an "interactive score") played live by musician and composer Billy Bivona. Mr. Bivona's musical interludes and his use of his guitar to convey some of the tenser moments and to illustrate and punctuate the scenic shifts works marvelously.

So, while Theaterworks' CONSTELLATIONS may be a bit out of the ordinary, but it is fresh, thought provoking, and brilliant. It makes you think and even consider your own choices in life (and the impact they may have) all while sharing the story of these two star-crossed lovers whose destiny, it seems, to be in each other's lives. It is the kind of show that must be seen to be understood fully, with the experience creating as much (or greater) impact as the story itself.

CONSTELLATIONS runs at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through February 18. Theaterworks is located at 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For more information call 860-527-7838 or go to

PHOTOS: M Scott McLean and Allison Pistorius

Photo credits: Lanny Nagler

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From This Author Joseph Harrison

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