Beekeeper meets physicist at a party. Neither is adept at romance. Roland (the beekeeper) says the wrong thing. Marianne (the physicist who studies “theoretical early universe cosmology”) backs out. Blackout.
Lights up — same scenario: different outcome? No. she eventually spurns him again.
Same scenario: maybe this time? Maybe.
Nick Payne’s Constellations may sound like the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, where a repeated event brings knowledge and growth. But Constellations has a different model: the multiverse. In effect, your life is a possibly infinite hallway with a possibly infinite number of doors. Each leads to a different you and different hallways.
All happen at the same time. You are you here, now, and also numerous other you’s, some slightly different, some more so, making other choices in other dimensions.
(My favorite multiverse scenario: a guy deliberately loses a poker hand so that another version of him, elsewhere, can win a big pot.)
The play moves in a kind of free space, a non-linear flow of variations on an event, but it also moves forward as the characters age. Hints early on — when Marianne begins to have trouble with words and numbers — point to different ways of letting go and having to say goodbye.
Each event has a locus: in one, Roland and Marianne face infidelity (“I slept with James”) and react in different ways. Although the play’s deconstructive form has an impressive experimental feel, individual clusters become predictable: given a topic, you can envision how each might react.
Director Richard Seer, his cast, and crew give the piece a game go. The in-the-round White Theatre has a mystical/mathematical aura. Tiny green lights suggest not only the “constellations” of the title but of inner space as well. The shiny mirrored floor of the six-sided stage has a mandala of geometrical triangulation. You half expect Dr. Faustus to materialize, in a gaudy wizard’s robe and cone-shaped hat, and conjure up Mephistopheles — or myriad Mephistopheleses, for that matter.
Each blackout opens a new universe, which means that Christian Coulson (Roland) and Victoria Frings (Marianne) must dive into a new situation with no time to take in the character’s “given circumstances,” or what Michael Shurtleff calls “the moment before” the scene begins. It’s just a leap from blackout into the middle of the next scene.
Both actors, and the director’s consistently inventive staging, perform these feats — and indeed they are — without a hitch. In fact, the show’s overall technical achievements are most impressive. But I found myself often more engaged in admiring technical difficulties overcome than emotionally involved in the character’s fate(s)