Jake Gyllenhaal has really got a thing for Nick Payne, a young English playwright whose work is only seen in New York when Gyllenhaal is starring in it.
Two years ago, the actor appeared Off-Broadway in Payne’s “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet,” an incomprehensible family drama that tried to tackle climate change by literally flooding the set.
Now Gyllenhaal is making his Broadway debut in Payne’s two-character relationship drama “Constellations.” He is joined by Ruth Wilson, an English actress who just won a Golden Globe for the Showtime series “The Affair.”
Gyllenhaal and Wilson emerge on emerge on a stage that is empty except for a carefully aligned mass of party balloons at the very top. He is a mild-mannered beekeeper, and she is a sharp physicist full of personality.
The 70-minute play is structured like the films “Memento” and “Sliding Doors” and the Broadway musical “If/Then,” with variations on the same scenes being explored based on different choices that the characters might make, as per the theme of infinite possibilities.
After dozens of short scenes and stops and starts, plus many lighting changes and a few balloons falling to the ground, the relationship has seemingly come full circle.
The play manages to feel slight and jam-packed at the same time, combining an uninteresting boy-meets-girl romance and a well-worn premise of right turn versus left turn with a hard-to-follow structure.
I actually found myself more interested in figuring out the symbolism of the set design than in following the plot.
It at least allows Gyllenhaal and Wilson to engage in a variety of dramatic scenarios under demanding circumstances, though Wilson easily outshines Gyllenhaal with her astonishing vibrancy.
If you go: “Constellations” plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through March 15. 261 W. 47th St., manhattantheatreclub.com.