BWW Review: Time is the Real Star of Bartlett Theater's Production of CONSTELLATIONS
Boy and girl meet. Boy and girl meet again and fall in love. Boy and girl meet again, fall in love again, and break up. In fact, boy and girl meet, fall in love, fall apart, time and time again, in Nick Payne's two-person play CONSTELLATIONS. The play is part of Bartlett Theater's current season, a season which finds the company partnering with Northgate Cinema Stadium 10 in Durham. And for the most part, this venue, which worked so excellently for Bartlett's last production THE FLICK, also works for this production. This time around, ethereal projections are cast across the screen, setting the stage for a play that defies both time and space.
Emily Rieder (Marianne) and Jon Parker Douglas (Roland) play the two star-crossed lovers, seemingly caught in a time warp. Douglas' Roland is unchanging, charming and affable throughout, with one exception, a brief scene in which Roland uncharacteristically slaps Marianne. Rieder's character, on the other hand, is on an emotional rollercoaster throughout. She seems most uncomfortable with Payne's brand of non-linear storytelling, making her performance feel strained and forced at times. From the get-go, she seems to be anticipating her character's later scenes, wherein Marianne faces a true test of faith and love. During those scenes, Rieder rallies and effectively digs deep, but it's not really enough to solicit any kind of empathy or feeling from the audience.
And that's kind of the problem with the overall structure of the play. It is made up of 50 short scenes, all variations on a theme that beg the question of what if, but make it hard for the audience to invest in either these characters or their love story. And maybe that's the point because the real star of the show here is neither Rieder nor Douglas, but in fact time itself, which in this context, is both fleeting and infinite. It's a hard story to tell on the stage and the struggles of the cast and creative team are evident.
Payne's plot is not innovative or new and is one that has been explored before, at least on the big screen. Still, it is always interesting to see companies like Bartlett make use of non-traditional spaces and tell stories in unconventional ways, which warrants a somewhat lukewarm recommendation for this production.
CONSTELLATIONS runs through March 24th at Northgate Stadium 10 Theater in Durham. For more information, visit http://bartletttheater.org/productions/.