We are many different people. We are not the same person in the workplace dealing with colleagues as we are in our relationships at home with family. Who we are, and how we behave or react, varies according to the situation or individual and, to a certain degree, where we are in our own lives and according to our own moods.
This is what Nick Payne’s play, Constellations, now in performances at Cockroach Theatre, explores. It immediately brought to mind Yasmina Reza’s Life X 3; only on steroids. Payne’s script doesn’t wait for a second or third act to show us, he provides a short scene - sometimes only a few lines - and backs up to change things up.
Director Levi Fackrell gives the script the full range it deserves. On a bare stage, designed by Scott Fadale, Fackrell leads his actors through time and space so elegantly we were immediately taken in.
Marianne (Maythinee Washington) is an Astro-physicist and Roland (Erik Amblad) is a Bee Keeper; dissimilar in education and life experience as any two people could be. They meet at a BBQ party. They’re awkward in their attraction to one another. Wait. They meet at a party, they aren’t awkward, but Roland is married. Wait. What if it’s only a girlfriend? Stop. Back up. What if he’s single and fancy free but Marianne is engaged?
Washington and Amblad are a perfect pairing. The two of them evoke laughter, sadness, tears, anger, and contemplative thoughtfulness, and sometimes all of them at once. The chemistry is plainly there, but they allow the interest to develop naturally. They both have an uncanny ability to provide us with the forward movement even as the dialogue backs up, sometimes after a single word. In one scene, they use American Sign Language - something few people know - and, with facial expressions and bodies in motion, manage to make us understand what they’re saying.
Reactions change everything. The smallest, most minute details of a situation can have an effect on the outcome of life; a smirk or a smile, a lifted brow or a scowl. Marianne has a malignant glioblastoma in the frontal lobe. Roland is scared and angry. Wait. Back up. What if it’s a benign tumor?
Amblad has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever witnessed on a local stage. He manages to put this talent through quick changes, yet telegraphs believable emotion. We don’t doubt for a second.
Washington matches him millisecond by millisecond. Real tears run down her face, then thirty seconds later the sparkle of honest joy is in her eyes. By all appearances here, she’s a force to be reckoned with.
The only costume change comes with Roland’s donning a sport coat. But, because of the skill of these two actors, it makes no difference; we easily follow them from the BBQ to a bar, a dance class, an apartment, and into Marianne’s workplace.
Elizabeth Kline’s simple lighting design matches the monochrome platformed stage. Total kudos go to whomever was on the light board, hitting those cues with spot-on timing. The opening and closing scenes utilized sound designed by Amanada Peterson to great effect; the opening placed us in time and space, the closing to inform the wrap-up.
Though it’s mostly a comedy, Fackrell has so delicately balanced the flavors of this rapid-fire play that during somber scenelets one could hear a pin drop, and the next we’re laughing. For a production to evoke such a roller-coaster ride of emotion on a completely bare stage, with no props (to speak of), no set pieces, and no true costume changes is pure, unadulterated, theatre at its core level.
In the restaurant business, it’s said food must taste good, and in better establishments it’s all in the presentation. This production combines the two. This is fine dining at its best.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, through January 31
Where: Art Square Theatre, 1025 S First St, #110
Tickets: $16 - $20 (www.cockroachtheatre.com, 702- 818-3422)
Grade: Irresistible (Ravenous!)
Producer: Cockroach Theatre; Managing Artistic Director: Levi Fackrell; Director: Levi Fackrell; Scenic Design: Scott Fadale; Lighting Design: Elizabeth Kline; Sound Design: Amanda Peterson; Costume Design: Rose Scarborough; Production Assistant: Alexi Harber; Stage Manager: Mack Geldmacher; Sign Language Consultant: Taylor Hall