Human nature clarified

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TO Constellations 1 Getty Images Constellations. Directed by Alan Swerdlow. Janna Ramos-Violante and Ashley Dowds.

CONSTELLATIONS

PLAYWRIGHT: Nick Payne

DIRECTOR: Alan Swerdlow

CAST: Janna Ramos-Violante & Ashley Dowds

VENUE: The Studio, Montecasino

UNTIL: September 28

RATING: ****

If Constellations is totally representative of the short list of plays the young British dramatist Nick Payne has written, we should willingly and rather drastically take note. He ruffles the feathers regarding theatrical conventions, established over centuries, with a new vision, structure and style, communicating, among many other things, the way 21st century men and women relate to each other.

Payne, already widely dubbed as the master of the multiverse, especially challenges the theatre-going public who are on the lookout for their periodical dose of entertainment. Foremost: In Constellations he throws chronology to the dogs. A sudden rude awakening gives the audience a type of concussion, informing them over time that there’s not really a beginning, middle, and an end to the “story”.

This two-hander’s structure is scattered, although there’s continuously a remarkable close-knit intensity between the characters: Roland, a bee-keeper, and Marianne, a scientist, describing her daily task “to feed numbers into a computer”. He, at times, also calls her by the name Mary Annabel.

What we have here is rather a playful and only rarely a more radical view on metaphysical things like alternate universes and quantum theory within contemporary relationships, or the lack thereof. Payne’s writing is the result of a totally clarifying insight into human nature and his perception of how we relate to each other in an age already far removed from outdated traditions.

Payne demonstrates to us in the many repeated sequences between the two characters in this play how intricate and at the same time how fraught with hidden misunderstandings the outwardly idealistic touching of souls can be.

Marianne and Roland go through everyday rituals, but then, mainly within the sphere of magical realism, Payne somehow elevates it to a level of distinct meaningfulness within sequences of a light-hearted and even humourous nature.

But then fate sets in and Payne fully succeeds to grip you at the throat, and throw you into the maelstrom of Marianne and Roland’s impending lost hope. There are no histrionics or melodrama. It is part of life, Payne wants to say. He pulls you into the darkness with a firm grip. There’s no escape from this realism.

Constellations is 70 minutes of intense, intelligent and partly enjoyable theatre. Its everyday premise is deceiving, due to the playwright’s fresh approach to avoid the trappings of the cliché, the cheap thrill or to dumb down.

These qualities are totally interwoven and strongly shadowed in Alan Swerdlow’s clear-cut directorial mastery. Not only in the way he trained his actors to succeed in handling both the quick changing scenes and the extended pauses in the dialogue, but as much so the catalogue of mime and body language which is so intrinsically part of the play.

As Marianne, the mainly Durban based actress Janna Ramos-Violante provides us with an enlightening character study of the rather highly strung scientist, with all facets and emotional nuances deeply felt and, over time, constantly developed. An actress you wish to experience more often.

Ashley Dowds is more than totally convincing as Roland. Somehow the nature of this character inspired him to broaden his presence on stage with a very focused and alive portrayal of a complex but insistent man.

At Sunday’s performance my partner was, for some reason, reminded of the closing line of Maya Angelo’s poem Old Folks Laugh. Although Marianne and Roland are far from old, “They forgive life for happening.”


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