Theater in the Round is a lost art indeed. Last Saturday night at The Vanguard in Fort Lauderdale I had the exquisite pleasure of seeing Constellations, produced by the New City Players. This play was performed on a minuscule round stage in the middle of the theater surrounded by a rapt and intimate audience that was devoted entirely to the evening’s 75 minutes-long performance.
Directed with understated elegance by Mary Elizabeth Gundlach, Nick Payne’s play is but a simple dialogue of two young lovers, performed here by Jessica Schulte and Jordan Armstrong to exacting precision. Simplicity here is not meant to mean uninformed or facile. It is the perfect word to describe the extravagant conceit of stopping time and creating parallel processes, as Mr. Payne does with his unique approach to dramaturgy and narrative. The narrative is indeed linear, but multifarious. Imagine a spider’s web of lines going off in varying directions and you will understand the conceit of the “multiverse” in Constellations.
With a minimal set consisting of an array of white light bulbs of varying intensities and little else, the production brings to mind experimental theater one may witness in Chicago, New York or London. Mr. Payne’s narrative is one of constantly shifting emotions and plotlines, a truly Postmodern attempt to re-think traditional story structures without being coy or ironic.
Exacting, uncompromising and poignant dramatic works are rare finds in today’s world of broadway musicals and cheap melodrama. Rarer still is the intellectual probing and emotional profundity of a work like Constellations. Ms. Schulte’s performance in particular is a standout here and her pairing with Mr. Armstrong is inspiring and apt. The two are believable and appear to have that genuine mix of alchemical entanglement shared only by those in love.
This is a work not to be missed, particularly within the context of the sultry and arid South Florida cultural season. Kudos to the New City Players for their original programming and fine production of a difficult and engaging piece of theater that will leave you wanting more and thinking about what might have been and what may still yet be in your own life.