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Allen Leech and Gennifer Goodwin in Constellations at the Geffen Playhouse. (Photo by Chris Whitaker)
Allen Leech and Gennifer Goodwin in Constellations at the Geffen Playhouse. (Photo by Chris Whitaker)

Constellations

Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Geffen Playhouse
Through July 23

RECOMMENDED

This intriguing play by British playwright Nick Payne centers on an unlikely love affair between beekeeper Roland (Allen Leech) and quantum physicist Marianne (Gennifer Goodwin), but it doesn’t proceed in the expected ways. Marianne believes in multiple parallel but alternative universes, where everything that happens to us continues to play itself out. Everything we do, and even what we don’t, are all in motion somewhere out there. In line with this perspective, playwright Payne gives us multiple and varying versions of the events in Roland and Marianne’s lives. The same moments are seen again and again, from different angles and with different results. Sometimes the versions are extensions of one another, and sometimes they’re totally contradictory. In one variant they are deaf-mutes, communicating via signing.

In the beginning, everything is light and funny, as the two meet at a barbecue (she’s a party-crasher) and are mutually attracted. Both are initially uncertain, and play a game of come hither/go away that reflects their ambivalent feelings and their very different natures. She’s intellectual and intense and distrustful of her emotions, while he’s stolid and laidback, but more open and vulnerable. But they do come together, in a series of interludes that are both funny and charming.

As the story progresses, the events turn darker, deeper, and more complicated, with problems of love, illness, and death emerging, so that we gain a prismatic view of their whole lives.

The ever-shifting narrative demands that the actors be very quick on their feet, to reflect the changing emotional climate. Goodwin and Leech have formed a rich and palpable bond that supports and adds richness to the tale. And director Giovanna Sardelli charts the constant permutations in their relationship with precision and sensitivity, while designer Lap Chi Chu uses lighting to alert us to changes of time and place.

At the performance I attended, a power failure occurred minutes before the end of the play, blacking out the theatre and much of the street outside. Fortunately, the emergency lights kicked in immediately, and the actors gamely continued on the semi-darkened stage — but it was a little hard to fathom the exact nature of the ending. What came before was so solid and skillful that one could take the ending on faith.

 

The Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.  (310) 208-5454 or www.geffenplayhouse.org/constellations. Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission.

 

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