Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Review by Eddie Reynolds

Carie Kawa and Robert Gilbert
Photo by Kevin Berne
Among all those countless specks of light sparkling in the nighttime sky, how many parallel universes are there where there may be earth-like planets? And among those living planets, is it not possible someone has had—or even is right now having—the same conversation that any one of us is having at any particular moment? Is my current conversation the same one I will remember tomorrow or a thousand tomorrows from now, or will that conversation morph into some other remembered reality? And looking back, how would I have liked that conversation to go, if I could do it over again? How many times will I replay it in random moments of daydream, and what could have been the outcome differences if I had just done this or that differently?

The multiple possibilities of the milestone interactions occurring over the lifetime of one couple's relationship is the focus of Nick Payne's Constellations, now in an area premiere at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. From the moment Marianne and Roland meet and move through their on-and-off again dating, marriage proposal, and moments of triumph and heartbreak, variations of the same situation flash before us on stage in short sequences of what might have happened, hopefully did not happen, and maybe actually did happen—with it largely up to us as audience to surmise which, if any, is the reality.

Sometimes, a scene seems more from the viewpoint of Roland and sometimes of Marianne, leaving the impression we may be peering into both their memory banks. Or perhaps we are actually seeing alternative, similar situations between two likened people in an alternative universe. That would be the quantum and string theory explanations of PhD and scientific scholar Marianne, who can rattle on almost forever about such probabilities. In any case, often a half dozen attempts of the same conversation play out, often with hilarious effects as the same words take on dramatically different meanings just by the changes in vocal tone, body positions, and/or speaker—with the results being the same words leading to entirely different outcomes of the interaction.

The first thing notable about the performances of Carie Kawa and Robert Gilbert as Marianne and Rowland, respectively, is that dialect coach Kimberly Mohne Hill should be given an award for her contribution to this production. Their British accents are (to this Yankee's ears) impeccable and so enjoyable, who cares what they are actually saying? But under the astute direction of Robert Kelley, the two shine in every respect with the aid of his brilliant sense of timing, his gentle sense of heartfelt humor, and his ability to remind us of the beauty of every day and even painful human experiences.

Each of the primary actors displays an incredibly broad range of emotions—always fully in the range of being natural, genuine and believable. The two complement each other in their many short, spoken duets, with neither ever upstaging the other as moment-to-moment shifts occur in their relationship's dynamics.

In three glimpses of what might have happened, Rowland proposes to Marianne in a trio of different ways. In a blink, she is now twice proposing to him, in a play/replay sequence; and then in another blink, the proposal just magically happens with both being in control. Throughout, the actors make the necessary mental, physical, and psychological switches in just a few dark seconds before replaying the scene in a totally different way.

The scenic design of Andrea Bechert takes on a major role in interpreting and enjoying the several dozen of scenes, aided by the lighting design of Steven B. Mannshardt. A giant geodesic-type dome of connected poles lights up in the connections as stars in a dark sky, with the linking strands between them lighting up in various hues to form constellations, giving the full impression that there are a myriad of ways for the same stars to connect to form new patterns. Those scenic elements and their ongoing light show mirror wonderfully the idea that any interaction we see on the stage may in fact have limitless ways how it could have happened, even how it might be remembered.

There is not a minute of the short seventy-two that is wasted in Constellations. Each is engaging, often fun and funny, and sometimes heartbreaking. But in the end, this short production to me feels more like an offering at a Fringe Festival in San Francisco, New York, or Edinburgh than a mainstage season offering for a major theatre like TheatreWorks. At today's ticket prices, this trend of offering plays 75 minutes or less is becoming too common on Bay Area stages, I fear. Often the trip to the play and back is much longer than the offering itself.

Constellations, through September 17, 2017, at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. Tickets are available online at or by calling 650-463-1960, Monday - Friday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Saturday - Sunday, Noon - 6 p.m.