Constellations at the Jungle Theater

Anna Sundberg and Ron Menzel in Constellations. Photo by Dan Norman.

Anna Sundberg and Ron Menzel in Constellations. Photo by Dan Norman.

There is plenty of stellar talent on display at Jungle Theater in their new production of Constellations (playing at the Jungle through May 29) by British playwright Nick Payne. Payne is just over 30 and has had praise worthy productions on both sides of the Atlantic. His 2012 play, Constellations, is a sleek 90 minute, two-person drama with Anna Sundberg and Ron Menzel playing Marianne and Roland respectively. Over the last ten years, Sundberg has become one of the Cities’ most enjoyable actresses to watch on stage. She has a great range and a comfortable presence. Ron Menzel, less familiar, also seems to be a fine actor. Add to this, director Gary Gisselman who has wowed audiences for decades with his skill in both musical theatre and drama. He ably manages a cast of dozens or a cast of two.

In Constellations, Roland is an affable beekeeper in a dodgy part of town and Marianne is a cosmologist at Cambridge University. She researches quantum mechanics, relativity and the one thing that may bind these two opposing views together: String Theory. This sting theory is the metaphor in the relationship between beekeeper and cosmologist.

Demonstrating all that advanced science is a tall order for a play regardless of how much talent you can put into its staging. It opens with a short scene: two strangers meet at a backyard barbeque. When that scene ends, the two actors replay the same scene with most of the same lines but they give different inflections to the lines and the actors seem to carry different personalities so the scene ends with a different outcome. Then rewind: the same scene is played yet a third time with variations in the lines and yet another outcome.

This continues throughout the entire play and there is a section in the middle where the whole thing seems about to become merely a clever acting exercise. But Nick Payne is savvy enough to string together a complete story line despite the multiplicity of choices and the actors are able enough to pull it all off.

If there is a fault with this show about Cosmology it is not with the stars but with the chemistry. The set (design by Kate Sutton-Johnson) consists of angular platforms, strips of metalwork, and plastic wrap all in shades of dark gray and black adding neither warmth nor light to the proceedings. This creates a gravitational pull that amounts to a kind of bleak black hole which the characters must work against rather than with. As engaging as the performances are, they have the gravity of the set to work against. The set is coupled with synthesizer music riffs (C. Andrew Mayer, sound designer). Set and sound together give this cutting-edge-of-science play a retro feel. Add to this Marianne’s sloppy costume (Sutton-Johnson) and they have a lot to work against.

This is production is in stark contrast to the Jungle’s last production, the glorious pink perfection of Two Gentlemen of Verona, testament to the fact that the theatre is a universe vast enough to hold it all.

1 comment for “Constellations at the Jungle Theater

  1. April 19, 2016 at 8:59 am

    Ron Menzel was noticeably terrific in TTT’s recent Forget Me Not When Far Away, holding his own against seasoned talents like Shá Cage and Sun Mee Chomet. I’m glad other theaters are discovering him.

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