Theater Review: ‘Constellations’ at the Jungle Theater
By Colleen Steppa, Theater Reviewer
Constellations artfully combines Vonnegut-style temporal shifts with the genuine emotional spectrum that accompanies real romantic relationships – at times deeply sad, others awkward, humorous, but always engaging. The 90-minute production goes without intermission but audiences will not want to miss one second of this heartfelt, mentally stimulating performance.
The set, like the plot, is deceptively simple while carrying a deeper symbolism. A web of black material reminiscent of pulled-apart cassette tapes crisscrosses around the edges of the stage, glinting at various angles from the stage lights just as the dialogue follows repeating and interwoven patterns of the same relationship retold through multiple possible story lines. Constellations treads these strings like a delicate tightrope – intelligent yet accessible, sweet but not sappy, and with just enough humor mixed into the drama to keep it from feeling heavy-handed.
The story of how these two lives became intertwined is told through glimpses that jump back and forth like a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Roland and Marianne meet, break up, reunite, and may or may not live happily ever after depending on which page you follow. True answers are not revealed, and neither is the audience told why or how the shifts occur. It is equally possible that we are looking into a series of memories fractured by brain damage or age, regretful fantasies that play out what might have been, or multiple planes of existence occurring at once due as seen by some Tralfamadorian-type creature watching through the glass at an extraterrestrial human zoo.
Constellations takes a number of risks that would be fatal to a less talented writer and cast – the actors have no costumes or sets to rely upon, no grand musical scores to elicit our emotions, and first few minutes of the play were the repetition of a rather awkward joke in a British accent. After reading in the byline that the two main characters were a beekeeper and an astrophysicist, I was fully prepared for 90 minutes of romantic drama hipster nonsense. However, the universal (pun intended) themes and utter realness of the dialogue won me over. The set of “running into the ex” scenarios were particularly remarkable as both characters seamlessly moved back and forth in a quick draw match of ping-pong, running the gamut of possible emotions over the same dialogue. Roland and Marianne so beautifully execute situations any audience member can relate to: the nervousness of a first date, the anger of jealousy, the joy of finding love, the frustration of life spinning out of control, and the pain of loss. Constellations is a timeless production that reminds us to spend well the time we have.
Constellations plays thru May 29
Written by Nick Payne, starring Ron Menzel and Anna Sundberg, directed by Gary Gisselman, with set and costume designs by Kate Sutton-Johnson.
Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Avenue South, 612.822.7063
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