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PREVIEW: Constellations (Jungle Theater)

Marianne (Anna Sundberg) and Roland (Ron Menzel) in the Jungle Theater’s production of Constellations. Photo by Dan Norman.

When Nick Payne’s play Constellations opened on Broadway, the show’s advertising copy trumpeted the New York Times‘ verdict as “the most sophisticated date play Broadway has seen.” That’s pretty close to the truth – what Ben Brantley actually wrote was that it “may be the most sophisticated date play Broadway has seen” [emphasis added]. Those two words, omitted by marketing, are actually quite relevant to this script, which deals with possibilities, forks, and alternatives.

That’s not to say that the script isn’t smart or sophisticated – it is, and bathed in science, too. (Trivia: The Broadway production was part of the MTC/Sloan Science Theatre Initiative and featured Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson.) At the heart of Constellations, though, is that eternal “What if” question that runs through life, relationships, and more. This plucks some universal heart strings and inspired Variety‘s Marilyn Stasio to quote Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” while while musing on the play. And, as Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote in the New York Post, “Rarely has quantum physics felt as romantic, as lively.”

To propel and sustain this two-person, minimalist show requires a pair of talented actors. As Stasio observed, “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…”

Regional theater? Check – it’s a Jungle out there.

Killer acting? There might be some problems there, but not in the way you’d think.

If killer acting is the name of the game, the Minneapolis Police Department should start checking the Jungle Theater’s garbage for bodies – Ron Menzel (Roland) and Anna Sundberg (Marianne) have killer acting in spades. The MPD will probably end up recruiting Menzel to investigate Sundberg, though, given his critically lauded appearance as Sherlock Holmes last December in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Baskerville. Sundberg, a 2011 Ivey Award recipient, will be hard-pressed to deny the overwhelming evidence of her killer acting – although she could probably still convince a jury that the house arson in the Jungle’s 2014 Detroit and the illegal explosives in its 2015 You Can’t Take It With You were someone else’s fault (Max Wojtanowicz, sorry – you’re probably going to take the fall for both, even if you were only involved in the latter).

Constellations opens at the Jungle Theater on Friday, April 15.



Basil Considine