By Nick Payne
Directed by Jonathan Berry
At Steppenwolf Theatre’s Upstairs space
Elliptical two-hander a perplexing experience
I left Steppenwolf Theatre perplexed after sitting through British playwright Nick Payne’s Constellations. The 80 minute two-hander seem to last 80 hours. It lost me early and bored me throughout. After seeing that most reviewers loved the work, I had to investigate why the drama left me so cold. I did something I rarely do: I read all the rave reviews by the critics I most respect. I still don’t see what all the praise is about and I can’t change my reaction to the play. Maybe it was all the elliptical, repetitious structure that covered all possibilities as the characters shift in time?
Roland, a bee keeper, (Jon Michael Hill), and Marianne, a theoretical physicist (Jessie Fisher), meet by chance at a party. We see several possibilities as to whether anything comes of that or not. This chance encounter could lead to nothing, an affair, a marriage, or whatever. We see several possible outcomes to each string, as well. That’s where I started to get irritated, despite terrific acting by Fisher and Hill, the premise and style quickly became tedious then boring. I became impatient and lost any empathy for either, again despite the challenging often brilliant acting. As the play droned on, I started to get sleepy-yet I was not tired.
The last few minutes when the story moved to Marianne’s illness, I felt nothing for her plight, rather I felt sorry for Roland who tried to be there for her despite her nasty treatment of him. Upon the play’s end, I felt little; relief, maybe? It was only hours later that I reflected on the outstanding performances by Jessie Fisher and Jon Michael Hill and I began to appreciate the beauty of Payne’s intellectual work. Maybe if I had read all the supporting material in the program beforehand, I might have accepted Constellations? But the above was my honest reaction to the work.
Therefore, realize that this is a subtle, complex romance that contains shifts in time and explores all possibilities with different outcomes. Add that Marianne isn’t the most lovable or charming person. Roland is the one to cheer for as we hope for an optimistic outcome.
Date Reviewed: June 1, 2016
For more info checkout the Constellations page at theatreinchicago.com
At Steppenwolf Theatre’s Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-335-1650, www.steppenwolf.org, tickets $2- -$89, Tuesdays 7:30 p.m, Wednesdays 7:30 p.m., Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Fridays 7:30 p.m., Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays 3 p.m., running time is 80 minutes without intermission, through July 3, 2016