Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Break a leg!
It's opening night for Constellations, the Broadway debut for costars Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, as well as director Michael Longhurst.
Photos and reviews:
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 seen. This 70-minute fugue-like production, which opened on Tuesday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, takes that most elemental of dramatic setups — boy meets girl — and then spins it into a seeming infinitude of might-have-been alternatives. …
The authors of these destinies may have unusual occupations. But it is essential that they register as schmoes like us. Mr. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Wilson, I am happy to report, have seldom appeared less obviously compelling on the surface. Their starlight has been banked and internalized. This means that while we see them as they see each other, we are also allowed to see them as they see themselves — which is as gauche lummoxes.
They are crippled by self-consciousness when they meet and remain so, to fluctuating degrees, even as they grow closer. “Constellations” is about, among other things, how inevitably fraught and imperfect communication is, even with people closest to you. Conversations here, both casual and life-changing (and these aren’t mutually exclusive), are always a matter of shouting and signaling across an unbreachable gulf. …
This makes the play both a treat and a potential trap for its performers. They have a glorious opportunity to keep trying out the same lines with different readings, which is standard practice on a movie set, but seldom in live theater.
But they must also bring the same weight and conviction to every interpretation, or else the play can feel like a virtuoso acting exercise. It’s no surprise that Ms. Wilson, a two-time Olivier Award winner, is 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.
Mr. Gyllenhaal’s Roland, a magnificent work of understatement, is the more naturally inhibited. His default stance is a hunch, with his hands buried in his pockets, and there’s a valiance in his eternal attempts to break through that posture.
Ms. Wilson is more expansive of gesture; you suspect that her Marianne sees her intellectuality as a social handicap, and she overcompensates by being louder and funnier than she needs to be. This makes her all the more moving whenever words start to fail her.
And though “Constellations” is a supremely articulate play, it knows that words inevitably fail, that they are never enough to bind two people together forever. Time, it turns out, is a more effective breaker of hearts than human beings, with all their conflicted intentions, can ever be. This story of parallel universes is universal in every sense of the word.
An early rave from Variety:
Short and sweet and strangely haunting. That’s the quick take on “Constellations,” a romantic two-hander starring dreamy Jake Gyllenhaal and the radiant British thesp Ruth Wilson (fresh off her Golden Globes win for Showtime’s “The Affair”) as a young couple who break through the boundaries of the time/space continuum to explore the infinite possibilities of their love. Although barely an hour long, this baby bombshell by hot Brit scribe Nick Payne (a play that originated at the Royal Court and went on to the West End) overflows with emotional highs and lows. …
That’s all it takes for drama — that, and some killer acting.
It’s inevitable that regional theaters will pounce on this low-maintenance, audience-pleasing show. Single set, two characters, no scenery to speak of — the economics of it are positively irresistible. But anything less than killer acting would be lethal for any future productions, and exactly how many Jake Gyllenhaals and Ruth Wilsons are out there, anyway?
Gyllenhaal has the charm and good looks of a leading man, but he’s also got the acting chops of a chameleon character actor, equally believable as a driven investigative reporter (“Zodiac”), a sensitive cowboy (“Brokeback Mountain”) or an obsessive gutter-press photographer (“Nightcrawler”). Here he gets to play someone whose character changes from minute to minute, and he’s pretty amazing. So is Wilson, now best known through “The Affair” but carrying heavy theater credentials including an Olivier award for “Anna Christie” and one for “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Her style as the brilliant, desperately needy Marianne is mercurial — and enchanting.
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. …
It’s a short play – just over an hour – and those in the orchestra seats may feel a little cheated at having paid something like $2 a minute for the pleasure. Perhaps the scenes, taken individually, aren’t as verbally fizzy as they might be (the opening gambit about elbow-licking is silly, while some jokes about midget porn are juvenile), and the overall arc is fairly sappy. Still, that didn’t stop me from crying softly during the weepy penultimate scene and then a little harder during the cheerier final one. And I wasn’t alone in sniffling into my Playbill.
“I have to have a choice,” says Marianne twice in the play. Well, a Broadway evening offers nearly 40 of them. Choose Constellations.
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. …
The range displayed by both actors is impressive indeed, and their chemistry unquestionable. Wilson's character is the classic socially awkward brainiac with a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease. She makes Marianne slyly funny but also prickly, defensive and volatile — sometimes guarded and nervous, other times brittle and angry. Her performance is a complex symphony of ever-changing movements.
Gyllenhaal made an admirable New York stage debut off-Broadway in 2012 in Payne's If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, a less striking study of the chaos and comfort of human relationships. But the actor's work here is in another league, swinging from open to standoffish, from vulnerable to cool, from sweet and shy to charming and self-assured. His ambling physicality in the role is expertly disciplined but appears entirely natural, while his English accent is flawless.
Constellations is the first Broadway opening of the year and it sets the bar high. Would that more plays were as compact and lively, as intellectually and emotionally stimulating as this one.
Depending on whether or not you've seen the theatrical device Payne uses throughout the 80-minute intermissionless work, you're likely to respond to it anywhere between greatly awed and slightly less impressed. No matter where you land on that narrow spectrum, you'll be wowed by Michael Longhurst's director of Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson and Tom Scutt's set, which consists only of a raised platform above which hang many balloon-shaped spheres with curlicue ribbons that change colors as Lee Curran's lights hit them. …
From start to finish Wilson couldn't have been more natural in Scutt's abstract environment, and Gyllenhaal matches her scene for scene. His Roland is clearly likable, if not an IQ match for Marianne. His passion for her is equal to hers eventually for him. He's all good-guy affability, straightforward intentions. (His performance becomes all the more impressive when contrasted with his currently Oscar-touted turn on screen in Nightcrawler.)
Another Gyllenhaal achievement is his mastery of a very specific English accent. I've heard many Americans saddled with British intonations (most recently in the revival of The Real Thing), and I'm obliged to say Gyllenhaal's is the best I've heard from a stateside actor--ever.
Curiously, no dialect coach is mentioned in the program, but I wonder if Gyllenhaal sought the assistance of the same person who worked with sister Maggie on her also excellent (and different) accent for the series The Honorable Woman. Or do both Gyllenhaal's simply have amazing ears for accents?
It's always a pleasure to see a drama that starts you thinking about scientific issues all the while remaining deeply human. Constellations is just that kind of delight.
NBC New York: Two Stars Shine in "Constellations"
As it turns out, cues aren’t so necessary. That’s partly because “Constellations” forsakes any linear quality for sheer chaos—some dialogue is repeated once or twice; elsewhere, we see variations on an exchange four or five times. 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.
This isn’t Gyllenhaal’s first time at the rodeo with the playwright’s complex dialogue. He made his New York stage debut 2 years ago in Payne’s “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet,” produced by Roundabout. Like “Constellations,” that production was helmed by Michael Longhurst.
The actors give true tour-de-force performances, notably when Roland reaches a moment where he may propose to Marianne. Gyllenhaal, reading from a script Roland has prepared, makes his overture with confidence one time; he does it again in a state of sheer terror, his hands trembling along with the paper on which he has scripted his big speech. …
The only real drawback to this kind of story-telling is that it’s something of an effort to ever really attach to Marianne or Roland because, by design, they have so many darn personalities. Payne keeps the conceit to 70 minutes, after which it might have become laborious; as it is, the outcome is pretty muddled, leaving us to wonder if there was a particular social statement the writer was grasping for, but opted at the last moment to back away from.
Not to matter, though. Gyllenhaal and Wilson, with all of their many sides, are a dynamic pairing no matter which direction they're coming at us from.
But few — in recent memory, anyway — have packed the breath-robbing wallop of Constellations, the stunningly powerful play by Nick Payne that just opened at the Samuel J. Friedman. Like all the very best works of theatre, it fuses the eternal and the intimate, addressing questions of enormous significance while not letting you lose sight of the deeply human tale at its center. In Michael Longhurst's razor-sharp production (which premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre three years ago, and subsequently moved to the West End), and with two incredible performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, it epitomizes not just what contemporary theatre can and should be, but also stands as a riveting reminder of just how we should live: as though every moment is the only one. …
Not that either Gyllenhaal or Wilson needs it. Each creates such a dynamic, perfectly of-the-moment person that even the smallest adjustment to attitude, posture, or vocal inflection can instantly transport you to a different place, time, or state of being. Gyllenhaal may be best known for his blockbuster Hollywood films, but, as he also demonstrated in his New York stage debut in Payne's If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet in 2012, he's also a spectacular stage actor. The actor's magnetic charm and firm, supple voice give Roland an unquestionable masculinity, but he plays wounded just as well, and his skin and manner soften gradually as his resolve comes closer and closer to cracking as events start to, shall we say, not go Roland's way. …
The same is true of the play as a whole, which — against the odds — tells a single, complete story of devotion that no god, no fate, and no shifting dimensions can interrupt. Love is like that; so is life, for that matter. And dwelling on the variations you can't experience is to lose sight of the glorious existence you're capable of creating. Constellations may not be the permanent cure for the regret that can burden our lives, but it's serenely beautiful as it proves the restorative, even exalting, necessary of valuing each and every one of the decisions we make along the way.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson were at the Golden Globes at the Beverly Hilton the other night even though they’re making their Broadway debuts in Constellations. Mere mortals would chalk it up to the miracle of jet travel but not playwright Nick Payne. He might argue that the stars tumbled in via tesseract—remember A Wrinkle in Time?–allowing them to be in two places at once, even in two different moments at once, which apparently is what Constellations is all about. …
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. A couple of times I found myself time-traveling to scenes from this theater’s past, hearing the cast of Hair singing “This Is The Dawning Of The Age Of Aquarius” and young marrieds Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley in Barefoot In The Park deciding to start over again. Sweet relief.
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.
Time Out New York:
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 (which may not be such different things). 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 multi versatile.
Center on the Aisle:
Constellations is an engaging, well-acted, and thought-provoking new play — featuring the star power of Jake Gyllenhaal and (new) Golden Globe award winner, Ruth Wilson — well worth seeing. British playwright Nick Payne’s latest work is based on the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. But don’t let that scare you: no knowledge of physics is required to understand and enjoy this riveting two-hander. …
Both Gyllenhaal (who affects a decent middle class British accent) and Wilson (who comes by her plummy British tones naturally) do an exceptional job revealing the nuances inherent in the multiple versions of each scenario. Their performances are finely timed and the two are obviously in tune with each other—a good thing, since neither actor leaves the stage during the taut, 70-minute performance.
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, along with the variations-on-the-same-scene structure that Wilson works so well in Showtime's newly Golden Globe-minted The Affair. 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.
“Constellations,” the British two-hander, is a thinking person's romance. One of the characters is a physicist who talks about string theory and quantum mechanics. But don't be fooled by the scientific jargon. Nick Payne's compelling drama is one for the heart just as much as the mind. …
But if that doesn't blow your mind, the wonderfully fine-tuned performances will. Jake Gyllenhaal - making his Broadway debut - plays Roland as a good-natured bloke. Ruth Wilson - as the brighter half of this couple - makes the attraction very real. 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.
Despite the play's brainy patter, it never feels like it's going over our heads. More than anything else, "Constellations" is a touching love story, a deeply universal one - or should I say, multiversal?
Who knew theoretical physics could be so sexy? That's one of the thoughts that flashed across my mind while viewing Nick Payne's Constellations, now making its American premiere at Broadway's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in a production by Manhattan Theatre Club. Of course, anything with Jake Gyllenhaal is bound to be a little sexy. In 2012, the Hollywood hunk appeared off-Broadway in Payne's If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet. Now he's making his Broadway debut opposite Ruth Wilson (newly minted Golden Globe winner for Showtime's The Affair). While their performances are moving and the subject fascinating, Constellations feels oddly unsatisfying. This may very well be the result of Payne's novel but underdeveloped approach. …
Gyllenhaal and Wilson have a natural and idiosyncratic chemistry that feels believable. We never question the authenticity of their relationship as they hop from one universe to the next depicting courtship, infidelity, illness, joy, and heartbreak. There are just so many ways Marianne and Roland could go right, and terribly wrong. Under the steady and efficient direction of Michael Longhurst, Wilson and Gyllenhaal portray them all with commitment and gusto.
These competing scenarios play out on Tom Scutt's sleekly modern (but virtually unusable) set, which is dominated by countless balloons of varying size in mid-flight. Gyllenhaal and Wilson perform on a raised platform center stage, flirting, fighting, and forgiving in much the same way one imagines they did in the rehearsal studio. They never interact with the balloons. Instead, these floating metaphors flash with light (designed by Lee Curran) each time the universe shifts. An accompanying sound effect (by David McSeveney) also plays to signify each new scene. It feels like we're jumping through time and space itself, making these universe shifts crystal clear.
New York Post:
Rarely has quantum physics felt as romantic, as lively as it does in Broadway’s “Constellations.”
The lives of two people, beautifully played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson — who just won a Golden Globe for Showtime’s “The Affair” — illustrate the theory of self-contained parallel universes. Each word, each decision creates an offshoot for a new reality, poetically suggested here by white balloons hovering above the stage. …
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.
Gyllenhaal — who starred in writer Nick Payne’s inferior “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet” off-Broadway — is 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. She handles the scene changes with quicksilver agility — her face reconfigures itself as fast as the android in the “Terminator” movies — and she displays a flair for comedy nobody could have suspected from, say, her sociopathic killer on “Luther.”
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.
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.
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.
Boy meets girl — again and again, with different outcomes each time. Constellations may be fixed in our universe, but beneath them, the human race just might be living in multiple universes at the same time.
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."
Displaying a sweet chemistry together, Ruth Wilson — who on Sunday won a Golden Globe for her role in "The Affair" — plays a ditzy scientist named Marianne, while Jake Gyllenhaal is Roland, a down-to-earth beekeeper and Marianne's potential new boyfriend. Beneath a haunting canopy of off-white helium balloons, as if on a bizarre speed-date, Roland and Marianne flash through a series of scenes playing and replaying various versions of their encounters that twist into different outcomes. They share awkward small talk, intimate conversations, or truly painful exchanges, taking the audience on a roller-coaster ride through a relationship that might never even have happened.
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.
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.
Repeatedly in Constellations, the playwright mines the profundity in the most seemingly mundane conversations. Confronting a devastating crisis, Roland asks Marianne several times if she wants a bite to eat; Gyllenhaal, whose performance is as disciplined as it is vigorous, instills the questions with the kind of barely controlled desperation they demand.
Wilson, acclaimed for her stage work in her native U.K., is 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."
Audiences, on the other hand, have only about two more months to see this one-act wonder. Catch it if you can."
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. …
For the most part, though, the multiverse superstructure turns out to be inexpressive, and so overbearing that it sucks the dramatic nutrition out of the play. That the stories it is meant to support do not in fact wither or get crushed beneath it, and remain quite engaging, is a tribute to Payne’s highly playable dialogue and the immense skill of both actors. Wilson’s Marianne is the more baroque invention, given the brunt of the playwright’s justifications, but she folds that into a canny take on an instantly recognizable type of woman, constantly second-guessing what she says but never what she believes. And Gyllenhaal is terrific (as he was in Payne’s If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, which played off Broadway in 2012) adapting his subtle movie technique to the more presentational requirements of the stage. (He easily makes lines like “Yeah, no, yeah, I am, yeah,” not just naturalistic but emotionally legible.) Together, and most astonishingly, the two make the play’s innumerable leaps (which replace a normal play’s transitions) in brilliant lockstep, like synchronized divers. Sometimes those leaps happen every few seconds, which however funny it is to watch must be devilish to perform, especially when the mood shifts radically. One bit starts with Roland nearly in tears.