Melissa and Genevieve decided to experiment with recording their review rather than typing

Melissa

Alright Genevieve what was in your pockets?

Genevieve

Pretty much nothing! I don’t know anybody in the show. I’ve been to the Wilma, and I have liked their things in the past…though I question some choices from time to time.

Melissa

I feel pretty similarly. I have worked with one of the actors, Jered McLenigan, before, and I think he’s pretty remarkable. But I don’t know his wife, Sarah [Gliko], who was his partner in this play…. I’d spent the day talking about the relevancy of theater over the next season…planning and talking about how plays relate to our lives. And I’d had a drink….

Genevieve

I’ve had a lot of discussions with other people about this play in particular. I happen to enjoy it. I think it’s a really interesting way of engaging with physics for someone who is not well versed in physics. It’s a fun application of the theories. I know some people find it kitschy…I don’t agree, but I see how some might view it as schtick.

Melissa

I didn’t know that much about the play, apart from the premise. I thought I would like it more. But I felt like I couldn’t really connect to the characters, to their relationship. It felt like it was never quite real. I thought I could see a lot of things coming, like the first time she crashes to the ground as he tenderly holds her. I thought, “Well okay, we’re going to watch this lady lose her mind.”  It was fine. But coming from a day of talking about what art can be doing right now, I thought, “why are we doing this?” And that isn’t really fair. It’s not fair to put that on all plays, because not all plays want to do that. Some plays want to connect physics and string theory to the complexities of human emotions, and… that’s valid. Art can do a lot of things. But it just wasn’t where I was while I was watching this play…. I couldn’t help but think, “Cool! Two white people fall in love over and over. They fall out, they fall in…who cares? The world is ending.”

Genevieve

But what was fascinating for me was I went with somebody, and this was his first professional theater production. He is an accountant, and he is interested in big philosophical quandaries . So, I thought Constellations might be a good choice for his first show. And it was!  he was really jazzed about the production…perhaps because he’s not used to engaging in emotional  depth In his day-to-day work. Whereas theater people…we are a little jaded in that way.  This is something we talk about all the time. So we are primed to look for that “what is this doing for the world” thing, because that is the next step for us.  Someone who is not engaging in that everyday might find it exciting to see emotions played out in front of them.

Melissa

There were moments when I would check out and see audience members react. They were so moved. They kept to vocally reacting… So I think [you’re right], there is something for the idea that we (theatre artists) are just different audiences in the way we think about plays. We just do, and it’s okay. As a script, it’s a smart play. The writing is smart, it’s funny. The places where playwright Nick Payne decided to splinter off were… were well-chosen. I was curious about how the play was mostly… linear, but we would call forward to the unraveling, to her dying. I was interested in how that became an inevitability…. Because of the way it was structured, it seems like the play was saying, “It’s going to end this way. It’s just going to end this way.” It’s fascinating when you are asked to think about multiverses and how this ending was still almost predetermined.

Genevieve

I felt like he chose this particular rabbit hole to go down. He obviously could have gone in several different directions, given the exploration of multiverses. He wanted to get to that final monologue that Marianne has where she says something akin to, “You are always going to have all the time we would have had together.” I see that as the thesis of the play. That if you are trying to hold onto somebody that you perceive as someone you are losing either through death or some other circumstance, you’re still possibly holding onto them somewhere else. And that is kind of beautiful.

Melissa

It is beautiful!

Genevieve

…but it takes a long time to get there.

Melissa Yeah.

All these possibilities exist, but this thing we are watching is a curated selection of moments. This is the thing we are led to ultimately. We have to be led to this ending in order to contextualize the rest of their relationship.

Genevieve

So, this play has proven to be popular. It’s had several productions. My question is: We know this is a piece that works, because people do it over and over again. So, besides its popularity, why do you suppose the Wilma included it in their season?

Melissa

It seems the Wilma is really drawn to cerebral, intellectual topics. This time last year, they were doing The Hard Problem by Tom Stoppard, which was another science play that attempted to use science to illustrate human emotions, to a less successful degree (sorry Tom). I think they found the intellectual part of it really appealing. I also think they were interested in the acting challenge of the play, in that there are so many different tactics you have to choose. That fits well into their mission with HotHouse the Wilma’s acting company. But I don’t know that it was thinking about the world in which they’re doing plays. The Wilma sometimes does that. Like, When the Rain Stops Falling, which is the play they did before this one, was climate change paired with a generation (again, mixed results for me). The real world was something they were considering. Constellations didn’t feel like that. This felt like, “This is a good play. This is good for us. It’s small, compared to the two larger plays we were doing bookending this piece,” and, “We’re doing it, because we like it. ”

Genevieve

When the Rain Stops Falling seemed like it was supposed to exemplify a “cause and effect.” The familial relationships caused the neverending rain. I can see the connection from the personal to the political. With Constellations, you could have had Marianne and Roland’s entire relationship played out in front of you and have it have nothing to do with string theory.  And that’s the problem. One did not depend on the other.  Therefore, this play doesn’t necessarily fit into the season if they’re looking at how the personal relates to the political.

Melissa

So, what did you think of the performances?

Genevieve

I thought Jered was wonderful.  He really moved through each scene expertly and with an ease. He was very open from the start.

Melissa

With each different change, timeline, or “string” of this relationship, he was the one that most fluidly moved through tactics. He changed the most completely and the most naturally. I don’t know that I would say the same for Sarah Gliko, though.

Genevieve

I felt the same about her. I saw it on a Tuesday (after they had a day off),  and part of me wondered if this was the cause. Because sometimes if you’re off for a day you need a few minutes to get back into it.  She seemed like a performer rather than a person from the start. There was a harder edge to her that made her appear performative.

Melissa

I totally agree. I also saw it on a Tuesday. She was fine, and when she and Jered were focusing on each other, they were talking to each other a little more. But there were moments when she would turn out to us that felt like, “This is blocking!” She would “express” herself, like she’s acting.

Genevieve

It’s important to note that they are married, because it makes sense to me that the moments they focused on each other was when the intimacy clicked in for her (but it would fall away when she had to deal with the rest of us). That being said, I do believe her harder edge was good for Marianne, because that character is the scientist. She’s the one explaining the theory. It works. If it made her slightly inaccessible, it at least fit the character…letting her have that quirk.

Melissa

I want to push back against that, because so much of Marianne, as directed, was, “This is a quirky joke! Aren’t I awkward and funny?”  She opens the play with the line, “Do you know why it’s impossible to lick your elbows? Because they hold the secret to immortality.” Like, why? Who is this person? Marianne is straddling both hardline scientist who needs to be in control and… not Manic Pixie Dreamgirl (that’s an overused phrase)… but this uber playfulness, uber awkwardness.  It was in those moments that Sarah Gliko was least successful. When she could be this more in control person, which she had also played in The Hard Problem, I thought, “Ah yes, this is a person. This is a human being.” But other moments her characterization felt really contrived. I don’t know whether that was Sarah, whether that was Sarah interacting with the script, or whether that was director Tea Alagic guiding her in that way. It didn’t click for me. It felt fake.

Genevieve

The quirk felt like stereotype, rather than one person trying to connect to another person and having a difficult time with it.

Melissa

And when you have that up against Jered, who is [playing] a pretty normal dude…that character of Roland  is pretty normal even in his more simpering or brooding states. He still feels like more of a human being. Maybe that’s Jered being a different kind of actor, or maybe it’s direction, or maybe it’s the combination of direction, writing, and acting.

Genevieve

What did you think of the overall direction? It’s a hard piece to tackle, because it doesn’t give you much to go on.

Melissa

It’s true… I thought the direction was fine. But again, there were these hyperarticulated moments of awkwardness… playing at that kind of human connection. They were successful in creating repeated language beats, particularly in the crouching down, “hold me, I’m losing my mind” moments. There would always be that, which signified which multiverse we were occupying, which was helpful.  But I feel like the way Sarah ended up playing Marianne was because of direction.

Genevieve

Knowing that the script doesn’t offer much in the way of world-crafting (though other plays are open to a director’s interpretation, of course), this one is unique in that Payne doesn’t give any indications of set or specific world, and it’s up to the director to decide how they want to move through that. To Alagic’s credit, I forgave the fact that there was no set, not props. I still question the overall design, but it is a testament to her to make me forget that there are just two bodies interacting in space for an hour and some change. I was immersed in that world enough.

Melissa

What questions did you have about the design?

Genevieve

It was spare, which wasn’t a problem (and I usually prefer spare, anyhow). But they were set on a dais, and it seemed like they were in a petri dish. There was so much open space around them that it almost felt like a waste of space. I believe the point was to signify that there is an infinite amount of space around them and this is just one universe (or several universes) with which they are interacting. Intellectually I understood that, but at the end of the day, I was watching 2 actors in a wrestling ring being dwarfed by space.

Melissa

I felt the same void of it. It was harder to connect to them because it felt so vacuous. The set was physically beautiful…Matt Saunders is one of the best set designers (or designers in general) in the city. It was clean, and it was aesthetically appealing. The shape of the projection screen–

Genevieve

–the swooping projection screen that arched its way around.

Melissa

Yeah. The flow of it was really appealing. Yet it somehow made it harder for me to latch onto them. I did like that in the end the platform rotated the smaller circle within the larger dais.

Genevieve

It was so simple, but lovely! That’s why I appreciate really spare sets. When you are given a set, and this set seems to say “this is what you’ll be looking at for the next hour,” and then in the last minute the design team introduces a very small change…it becomes all the more effective. A simple, spinning stage becomes astronomically interesting.

Melissa

But your description of the petri dish is right. It is so devoid of any life. There was the movement that’s projected or lit onto that scrim, and at the end there is the rotating stage. But the lights (Masha Tsimring) were all pretty cold (mostly whites, some yellows). The only real life was in their clothing (costumes by Becky Bodurtha), which was so starkly colorful against all this blackness. It felt like we were observing them, and it made it that much harder to connect to them.

Genevieve

They were fighting sterility.

Melissa

Yes! But as cold as it was, the lighting was really great. It was subtle, it gently delineated time.

Genevieve

Yes, which we needed, because scenes switch multiverses so often. The lighting shifts allowed me to key into the pattern of switching from the throughline multiverse to the other multiverses swirling around it.

Melissa

It was beautifully done. It was just that the colors against the starkness of the set contributed to that sterile, empty feeling. Beautiful, but hard.

Genevieve

It felt like floating in space a bit! There was nothing really to latch onto, no warmth that draws you in (besides the two people on stage). But maybe that’s the point? The focus is supposed to be on them, because they are the sole source of warmth.

Melissa

It might be a personal thing… it was hard for me, one beer in, talking about whether theatre is relevant anymore. What about the sound (designed by Elizabeth Atkinson)? That tone that delineated, “this is a different time now!”

 

Genevieve

It was really subtle, and it took me a little bit to clock it. If I were an outside person (who had never read the play), it might have taken me a minute to get into it. Although I do like the subtlety, because anything more might have crossed over into the cliché…derivative of “Sure Thing,” where playwright David Ives incorporates a bell sound to signify a shift. That would have gone in the wrong direction tonally.

Melissa

Again, sound was pretty minimal. There was that static in the final scene, pre and post orchestral sounds, but otherwise it was not really present or it was very quiet. Again, because the actors are just there with nothing except for these occasional tones… that’s the emptiness.

Genevieve

That’s the challenge of this piece. How do you make it not just a blackbox production? How does it become something that fills the entire space of the Wilma’s theater?

Melissa

For what it was, it was good. Maybe the actors were not perfectly matched, and I think there are questions as to the relevancy of the play. But it’s interesting to bring up that it’s at the Wilma, because the space is huge. Every other production of Constellations that I’ve heard about was in a small space, in a blackbox type of theater. I wonder if the space is part of it too. The Wilma is a cavernous theater. That scrim they had was actually cutting off the space. They were much farther forward. Yet, we were sitting in the Wilma. It’s a huge rake, the audience seating is expansive, so maybe it’s part of the reason why we felt like we were sitting in a void.

Genevieve

A blackbox space, a different staging setup, or if the audience was put in 3/4 or in the round might have forced an intimacy that is lacking in this production.

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