Five years ago, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson starred in Nick Payne’s Constellations on Broadway, a time-bending play set in the quantum multiverse, taking place in the past, present, and future as a beekeeper and a cosmologist repeat scenes over and over again to reveal the intricacies of a relationship. Now artistic director Wang Chong and his Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental are bringing a Chinese twist to the work, which is running January 9-12 at La MaMa as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. The ninety-minute multimedia piece, which features live streaming video and a hamster, stars Wang Xiaohuan and Li Jialong, with music by Li Yangfan, set design by Ji Linlin and Di Tianyi, and lighting by Meng Lingyang. The play takes place on a circular white stage on the floor, surrounded by video cameras. At the center of the floor is a hamster on a wheel in a see-through Lucite case. Wang and Ji enact each scene in front of a different camera — multiple versions of how they met, their first night together, fidelity issues, etc. — resulting in distinct visual perspectives and emotions that are watched on a large screen suspended behind them. In between scenes, director Wang cuts to video of the hamster, who is often running on the wheel in either direction, as if he is making the time go backward or forward by his motion, which is accompanied by celestial projections on the floor.
In writing Constellations, Payne — who previously tackled climate change in If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, in which Gyllenhaal made his New York theater debut — was inspired by the work of Columbia physics and mathematics professor Brian Greene, the superstring theorist and author of the highly influential book The Elegant Universe, lending a well-researched scientific edge to the play. Founded in 2008, Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental’s previous productions include Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts 2.0, Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Woody Allen’s Central Park West, and such Wang originals as Thunderstorm 2.0 and The Warfare of Landmine 2.0.