A review of Constellations at Theatre Exit directed by Aida Bukvic

Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson on a theatre stage.

In a cosy auditorium of Exit Theatre, two actors are already on the stage during the crowd entrance questioning if it a usurpation or not. We might think that they have already started before us? Finding my place, I am overflown with sincerity of a woman sitting to my left, her dark curly hair all unruly as she turns and casts a significant glance to her male partner. With a tame expenditure, their glances go back and forth, acknowledging and teasing until we are silent and the lights go down. The woman Olga (Pakalovic) says to Vladimir (Posavec-Tušek) "Do you know you cannot lick your elbows?". With this innocent line begins a sequence of events known as Constellations merging together serendipitous events of love and belonging with those of nature's cruelty in a few yards of stage space limited only by illuminated beehives.


Nick Payne's starlight drama opened with Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins at Royal Court Theatre whereas its Broadway debut sprung to life with a versatile play of Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson. Marianne and Roland as protagonists are drawn with turbulence in a multi-folded storyline of their lives,  unobtrusively and almost imperceptibly constructed with prolific change. Their Croatian colleagues, lending their real names, tear one more wall apart in this quick affair of heart and reason. 


She is a theoretical physicist. He is a beekeeper. She delivers play's undermining theory of our existence in multiple universes, having previously set the pace in a timely manner. We see them orbit in sensuality, attraction and honesty in different narratives that dismantle our trust in purposeful action. Nothing is real, nothing is accidental. The moments are sheer visions of possibilities and our ultimate choice in life is but an illusion, a conclusion in space that can be crushed in a heartbeat.  We spring around painstakingly aware, in the end, that the fury of our doings and our days have been conquered by futility. Even the beehives here are a sort of portals, opening both ends, the meeting and the separation, in the moments of inner acknowledgement.


The production owns a lot to this duo's aching performance. What might be done easily through a montage on film, is, in theatre, possible only with a trustworthy, thoroughly embraced interplay. Payne's text demands a sort of nowness to be played nimbly and promptly, with each changing sequence through repetitions with altogether different energetical execution. Olga Pakalovic is a graceful as she may be in stern government over Tušek's admirable sensibility. The one severity of the play, apart from its much-needed chambers, is the rhythm, taking away much of the emotional stake as we see our heroes drifting apart or engulfed in a slow, hopeless decay. Olga's stoic nature is set vigorously at stake as a fatal illness consumes her abilities while Vladimir is trying to console them both with a vain hope. Then, again, it might not be so for in the other -verse they are living with new partners after tasteless infidelity, only to meet each other at the dance class. Yet, this deeply haunting text provokes us to question our moments of choice, if anything else, with due diligence and devotion, as we might not have another opportunity to do the same.


Pakalovic has had, previously, to some extent a dissimilar role in David Harrower's Blackbird. Together with Zijah Sokolovic the play took on a less-vehement but the ostensibly admirable task, to bring about the testimonial of two people bound together by an immutable event. With her solid,  grieving appearance in a made-up storage room, her Una brought up a vision of loneliness, bruised but determined to testify in front of Ray the full account of her youth. Her abilities here flourished on as her presence alone is captivating to a point of transfixing reality somewhere amidst our own recounts of lost hopes. 


In the end, Aida Bukvic's directorial cut shines Olga and Vladimir embraced tenderly in footsteps of Cohen's Dance Me To The End Of Love, chiming dubiously over a heavenly ending, all beehives shining fully opened as our heart were when we still believed in the happy ending.

© Credit: Andrew H. Walker