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Sunday, February 23, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOKate Oswalt (Marianne) and Will Morris (Roland), “Constellations,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOKate Oswalt (Marianne) and Will Morris (Roland), “Constellations,” Civic Theatre of Allentown.

Theatre Review: ‘Constellations’ visible at Civic Theatre

Friday, June 28, 2019 by Paul Willistein in Focus

Civic Theatre of Allentown’s “Constellations” puts a cosmic spin on a romantic relationship that over time travels at the speed of love.

The two-person play, skillfully-directed by William Ross Sanders (Civic Theatre Artistic Director) continues at 7:30 p.m. June 28 and 29 and 2 p.m. June 30. The opening night June 21 performance was seen for this review.

Nearly everything about the production is unconventional: the script by English playwright Nick Payne (the play debuited in 2012 in London and 2015 in New York) that shuttles back and forth in time; minimalist stage (two chairs, a few lamps, a string of lights and two fluorescent lights) by Scenic Designer Joshua Deruosi and lightning-quick lighting by Lighting Designer Will Morris augmented by the buzzing sounds of electricity by Sound Designer Randall Utsch.

The actors, Roland (Will Morris, Civic Theatre Associate Artistic Director-Production Manager) and Marianne (Kathleen Oswalt), sit on chairs, their backs to the audience as theater-goers enter Theatre514.

Immediately, from the opening scene’s dialogue, the audience is kept off balance by the repetition of scenes, not in complete form and often with slightly different outcomes. The effect is intense. It’s not unlike peering into the night sky to pick out a constellation.

Morris, a beekeeper, is a lone outpost of measured response and stability opposite Oswalt, a cosmologist, initally a frenetic presence who gradually slips into the tenuous and then into the need for using American Sign Language.

Marianne sprinkles her theorems of a quantum-physics multi-verse throughout her conversations with Roland. He’s willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. They meet, they date, they break up. They get back together. They marry. That much is not so unusual.

What is unusual is the care and compassion that Sanders brings to a seemingly very confusing couple. For their part, Morris and Oswalt bring a fair amount of bemusement to the dialogue and their stage presences.

While “Constellations” is decidely not a comedy, it has many comedic moments. It’s a testament to the skills of Morris and Oswalt that they keep the repetitive dialogue straight and give each reading a slightly different spin.

Morris and Oswalt, as directed by Sanders, are able to make the invisible visible. The theater-goer needs only to look up to the stage to see the reflection of distant stars in their eyes.

“Constellations” concludes with a lovely coda, a bittersweet dance, illuminating all that has gone before.

“Constellations” is experimental theater at its best with two outstanding performances, bringing the avant-garde to Allentown’s West End Theatre District.

Tickets: Civic Theater of Allentown box office, 19th Street Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown;; 610-432-8943