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Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of Office Hour and Feeding the Dragon

M. Scott McLean and Allison Pistorius
Photo by Lanny Nagler
Constellations, the ingenious play by Nick Payne, benefits from two dexterous performances as it continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through February 18th. This particular production zeroes in, quite precisely, upon the contentiousness of two individuals who explore possibilities as they search the realms of a human relationship.

M. Scott McLean plays Roland, a beekeeper in England. At a barbecue, he meets Marianne (Allison Pistorius), whose profession at Sussex University focuses upon quantum cosmology. Later, she will compare and contrast her field to the theory of relativity. On the surface, Roland and Marianne are, by appearance, quite differing souls. Roland wears an old shirt and jeans while Marianne is nicely dressed in varying shades of maroon and coral. For more than an hour, they speak and parry. Playwright Payne, with repetitive or near repetitive language and phrases, demonstrates just how the two might grow together—or not. The scenarios begin with similarities and then short scenes veer elsewhere. Director Rob Ruggiero coaxes his actors to utilize different emphases and vocal tones to assist with emotions dictated by the dialogue.

Billy Bivona (composer/musician) provides distinctive original accompaniment which is most often welcome. Ruggiero's program notes indicate that the musical score, evidently performed live by the creative Bivona, is a new one each evening. Once or twice, though, the musician's electronic sounds draw attention that might otherwise be directed toward actors.

The play begins, for the viewer, as an intellectual exercise, as the momentum of the exchanges takes over. There are moments of intimacy and others of tension. Mortality is a central issue which must be addressed by both Roland and Marianne. The play is not heavy-handed and includes comic instances as well.

Designer Jean Kim provides a fully rounded, shiny black stage which demands that the actors have cognizance of all those who watch from various angles. Lighting designer Philip S. Rosenberg's many bulbs above the stage remind all, at least twice, that this is a play rich with celestial import. We feel a part of a greater universe as Rob and Marianne struggle for meaning and, perhaps, love.

Pistorius and McLean were MFA students at the National Theatre Conservatory. As participants in the same program, they might very well have worked together. Each has a splendid grasp of character. Ruggiero shifts the pace of the show but the two actors become forces who shape Roland and Marianne. The characters are physically expressive and Payne's script insists that performers flip emotions, as the colloquial saying goes, on a dime. One moment is filled with rays of optimism and the next with bleakest pessimism. The back and forth is constant. Tenderness and coupling might or might not be in their future. In a vignette, however, Marianne explains she slept with someone else; the follow-up reveals Nick has just had an affair. Once or twice, the actors dance a bit. The entire play at times feels like a hearts-and-minds motion experience as Marianne and Roland navigate in one direction and then the next.

Nick Payne has written and modified his own script in order to facilitate continual change. Nothing is static. Constellations is non-traditional and most captivating. TheaterWorks supplies a distinctive and swiftly moving production. Questions abound: Can either of the protagonists control destiny, or are they subject to fate? Is the playwright hopelessly confounding them with contradictory passages? More cosmically, is it likely that any of us might be granted second and third opportunities for restatement or revision?

Constellations, through February 18, 2018, at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit

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