By Holli Harms
“Time is irrelevant – it is symmetrical and thus has no end. We have all the time. We always have.”
The ties between love and loss and the unflappable belief that things can work out, that life still has one more chance for us, is Nick Payne’s play Constellations. A string theory of time presented in the curved space that folds, unfolds and folds back again upon itself. Presented by the Beijing-based Théâtre du Rêve in Mandarin with English subtitles, the play is part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival and unfolds in a lovely intimate space at La Mama. The two incredibly compelling actors (Li Jialong and Wang Xiaohuan) stream a delicate balance of the everyman and the star man that is in each one of us. They are playing the effortless luminous lights of us all.
This production of Constellations is an intricately simple and delicate two-hander that will leave you spellbound. It is about the gravity of being human, our need for a companion, someone who understands what we mean when we say what we say and helps to hold back the tides of life and the isolation of loneliness.
The play asks is someone ever completely ours as we watch the perfect moments give way to the imperfect and so we start again, going back and back to the beginning. We are a group of particles trying to understand our circular existence.
The qualities of love are so rarely exhibited with such quiet depth as in this play and this exquisite production. The continuous remaining mystery of the universe – love. Every culture has a word for it and some more than one. Mandarin has three versions each with a slight difference in meaning.
Video cameras, surrounding a circular stage that projects the cosmos, stream live footage of the actors. Close-ups of eyes and faces and moments of intimacy create a multi-dimensional experience. The stage is a circle, the actors move in circles, the universe is made up of circles (look up why planets and stars are spherical).
The obvious metaphor of the hamster wheel of life is brought to even more obvious heights on a huge video of an actual gray dwarf hamster who is literally center stage and running on a wheel throughout the production. Running to get nowhere, ending up in the same place he started, is that love, is that life?
The hamster wheel usually is representative of mundanity and boredom. Here it is a spinning wheel of passion and desire that is compelled, seemingly with no other choice, but to keep on with the effort to never let the exhilaration of life go.
The painter Kandinsky said of the circle that it is, “simultaneously stable and unstable,” “loud and soft,” “a single tension that carries countless tensions within it.” Using those words about this production, I couldn’t have said it better.
This is a wonderful production of a provocative play about the mysteries of life and love, with two extraordinary performers, beautifully directed and staged.
Co-Presented by The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival and La MaMa
Constellations Written by Nick Payne and Directed by Wang Chong
Performed by Wang Xiaohuan and Li Jialong
Music: Li Yangfan, Set Design: Ji Linlin and Di Tianyi, Light: Meng Lingyang, Assistant directors: Yang Fan and Dizi, Producers: Wang Chong, Wang Qingyang, and Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental, Co-producers: Sun Kehuang and Mu Ge
Run Time: 90 Minutes with no intermission
Performed in Mandarin Chinese with supertitles in English.
As sensitivities vary from person to person, if you have specific questions regarding content, please call us at 212.967.7555.
Run Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Header and featured image: photo by Yang Yang
Tickets start at $30, plus fees
Public Supporter tickets start at $25
Under the Radar Series presents Nick Payne’s Constellations at La MaMa
66 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003
January 9 – January 12, 2020