Jeff Jeffers as Roland and Kate Glasheen as Marianne.
Photo by Daniel Baumer
November 1, 2017
Are the events in our universe based on karma or free will? Is it foolhardy to consider the road not taken, the decision not made, the person not romantically engaged despite seeming to be “the one?” Or in the latter case, perhaps the reverse.
Most of us who are not versed in
physics have probably heard of string
theory, mostly through science fiction,
but we know little other than the
concept of multiple parallel universes.
That is, we have counterparts
elsewhere who live similar but
different lives – sometimes very
Recognizing that helps to make British playwright Nick Payne's intriguing Constellations (2012) easier to follow, because it hops, slides into or sometimes leaps from one reality to another almost in mid-sentence.
Now playing at the Playhouse Cellar Theatre, the piece is an hour-long two-hander featuring a pair of skilled actors who run the emotional gamut from naïvete to fury to anguish with impressive ease: Kate Glasheen as Marianne and Jeff Jeffers as Roland. Action is taut and logical (not always easy given the quirky concept) thanks to director Molly Cox.
Marianne is a quantum physicist and university professor, while Roland is a beekeeper who claims he makes a comfortable living as such. The pair meet and she flirts with a foolish pickup line and is rebuffed. ++pfft rewind++ In another universe, there is a second chance: She flirts with a foolish pickup line and his response differs from the one we just heard. And so it goes, they have conversations of all sorts, then there is the sound effect ++pfft++ indicating a repeat that is different, often completely so. Whole scenes are rewound, as well, with a more complex sound effect giving us the heads-up that they are off to another universe.
Thus, we learn that he is married, he is not; or she is engaged, she is not. Nevertheless, things progress and they move in together. He proposes and she accepts, but a replay finds her refusing. She admits having an affair. ++pfft++ He admits cheating on her. Sometimes he acts like an S.O.B.; later he couldn't be kinder. They go through a good deal of emotional turmoil, including her compelling portrayal of coping with a terminal illness.
As the two go spinning through spacetime and assorted universes, they do grow closer together, although with all that emotional jumping about it was difficult for this observer to feel the chemistry between them.
Both excellent actors develop more complex personalities as the play progresses and convey them very well, given the brief moments given to most transitions.
Nicholas Ponting's set is beautiful: an abstract skyscape on the floor and running up the rear wall, filled with linked and lit constellations. When scenes or parts of scenes changed, the actors manipulated hexagonal boxes used as “furniture” with lights inside that changed colors.
Lighting designer Dan “Doc” Heggem handled that, while sound designer Jesse Worley came up with those all-important effects designating an impending quick-switch.
So, whether or not we should worry about what might have been, perhaps we should be concerned with the value of the time we had or have with loved ones. If we can't hear a ++ pfft ++ of our own, we can only speculate.
Constellations runs through November 19 at The Playhouse San Antonio Cellar Theatre, 800 W. Ashby Place. 210.733.7258. www.ThePlayhouseSA.org
Playhouse SA Cellar /Constellations, by Nick Payne