'Constellations': Theater Review
Ginnifer Goodwin ('Once Upon a Time') and Allen Leech ('Downton Abbey') star in Nick Payne's enchanting play, making its Los Angeles premiere at the Geffen Playhouse.
"Imagine rolling the dice 6,000 times.” That’s the central conceit — and probably the most telling line — in Constellations, playwright Nick Payne’s two-character study in ‘what ifs.’ The show, which debuted in London in 2012, then moved to Broadway in 2015 where it starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, compresses a lifetime of joy, anguish and alternate paths into a fleet, satisfying 80 minutes.
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli in its Los Angeles premiere at the Geffen Playhouse, Constellations now features Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time, Big Love) and Allen Leech (Downton Abbey) as Marianne and Roland — nebbishy, needy and in love in at least a thousand different ways.
He’s a beekeeper, she’s a physicist. They circle each other, politely at first, before diving headlong into the messiness of life. As the playwright has them live out every possible permutation of events (a marriage proposal for example, unfolds five different ways), their challenge is to keep this show from becoming merely an actors' showcase of alternate line-readings.
That Goodwin and Leech avoid that landmine, and in fact elevate this petite two-hander into a substantive evening, is really something. In roles that demand enormous precision, subtle shading and emotion that whipsaws from giddy to grief-stricken, we never really see them acting. (Both received instant standing ovations at the curtain call.)
For anyone who’s ever driven home from a social gathering yearning for a do-over, obsessively replaying that thing you should not have said — or stewing over the unsaid and undone, Constellations illustrates all the might-have-beens in the time-space continuum.
Though not unlike Groundhog Day, It's a Wonderful Life and others of that ilk that aim to teach lessons in gratitude and perspective, Constellations ultimately veers from that playbook, and seems to be saying that things will end up just as the universe intends — with or without our input.
In his American stage debut, Leech has the more meaty role and is particularly endearing when his character is most anguished, heart dangling from his sleeve as crisis mounts. He's a mensch and a hound, lovable at every turn.
Goodwin, the winsome TV star with the pixie haircut, does not change much about herself physically for this part. Yet despite wearing her everyday look onstage, she is so natural and convincing in this role we see only Marianne, whose steely scientist crumbles as life bears down.
Skipping ahead and then backward in time, the production signals these shifts in the chronology via deft lighting and the kind of soothing incidental music we might hear at Epcot. Glowing white orbs overhead complete the entirely minimalist set, all of which seems to have the cumulative effect of placing us in no particular year or season.
“We’ve had all the time we’ve always had,” one character says to the other as the end closes in. Could they have changed anything? The science and the heart may not be in agreement.
Venue: Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Allen Leech
Director: Giovanna Sardelli
Playwright: Nick Payne
Set designer: Takeshi Kata
Costume designer: Denitsa Bliznakova
Lighting designer: Lap Chi Chu
Music and sound design: Lindsay Jones
Dramaturg: Rachel Wiegardt-Egel
Executive producers: Laurie & Bill Benenson, Martha Henderson, Pamela Robinson Hollander & Robert Hollander, Loretta Everett Kaufman & Victor Kaufman, Jason & Yvonne Lee, B. Scott Minerd, Linda Bernstein Rubin & Tony Rubin, Kimberly Steward & Josh Godfrey and Miranda & Brett Tollman
Presented by Geffen Playhouse