Nick Payne's hit play Constellations takes bittersweet journey through multiple romantic universes
Challenging script plays with how small decisions change a couple’s relationship across alternate realities
In some ways, it might be reassuring to imagine a parallel universe where every option you didn't choose in your life is reality.
On the other hand, British writer Nick Payne's 2012 play Constellations suggests, maybe those different choices wouldn't have made your world a better place.
Constellations — a Broadway hit seeing one of its first Canadian productions here thanks to local indie company Theatre by the River — follows quantum physicist Marianne (Mel Marginet) and beekeeper Roland (Derek Leenhouts) through various permutations of their lives together.
In a series of rapid scenes, we see successful meetings, failed attempts at connection, courtship playful and awkward, outright relationship disintegration, heartbreak and sometimes ecstasy in assorted realities.
A fascinating but challenging script
This is also devilishly hard to pull off onstage. Payne's script is smart, compact (at just 70 minutes) and dense with provocative scientific and philosophical questions.
It calls for actors to repeat scenes and dialogue with the most minute of variations, and to make hairpin turns as the script jumps, often mid-scene, from one reality to another.
What resounds is its bittersweet exploration of how two people navigate the strange and sometimes cruel turns of fate, and of roads not taken.- Joff Schmidt
It's fascinating as a piece of writing, if tremendously challenging — and by and large, director Sarah Constible's production pulls this off admirably.
Played out on a smartly-designed hexagonal set (by Daina Leitold), it perfectly captures a crisp pace in many scenes (though feels like it could tighten up a bit in a few places), and makes variations in scenes slight but distinctive enough to show us how tiny alterations change Marianne's and Roland's reality.
Marginet and Leenhouts have their work cut out for them in the huge range the script calls for, requiring them to sometimes make great tonal leaps. Here again, they're generally quite successful. There are a few moments where they seem to struggle a bit with the script's quick turns, but both deliver solid performances and navigate through the play's demands impressively.
It's a production perhaps not as uniformly successful as the script, but it does engage. There are big ideas of quantum physics and questions of metaphysics at play in Constellations.
What resounds, though, is its bittersweet exploration of how two people navigate the strange and sometimes cruel turns of fate, and of roads not taken.
Theatre by the River's production of Constellations runs at the University of Winnipeg's Asper Centre for Theatre and Film until Oct. 9.