Venue: Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes (no intermission).
Date of Performance: Sunday, September 11, 2016.
Constellations (astronomy): “a recognizable pattern of stars whose appearance is associated with characters, animals or objects.”
Constellations is also the title for playwright Nick Payne’s story about recognizable patterns in an otherwise dark sky. It’s a love story with a beginning a middle and an end, just not in the usual order. If that sounds like a chick flick, I can assure you that it’s not. Payne’s story appeals to all of us who have ever stood on the brink of a life changing moment and wondered how it will turn out.
|Carley Cornelius (Marianne) and Patrick Toon (Roland).|
Marianne (Carley Cornelius) and Roland (Patrick Toon) meet, fall in lust (and love), and live their lives together. The twist is that Marianne is a cosmologist, and the story is told in a theatrical version of “string theory.” I can’t explain string theory; what I know about it wouldn’t fill a thimble. Even so, it helps to know (thanks, Google) that string theory supports an infinite number of other potential universes where we exist in a similar but alternate reality.
I know; it’s weird. Every scene has an alternate version. Time is not linear; the story goes back and forth in time. If you’re a theoretical physicist, this is pretty interesting stuff. Oddly, though, even without knowing string theory, it’s intriguing.
And it works. I was surprised to find that Payne tells a coherent love story using such a wildly unconventional device. Five minutes into the fractured narrative, I was hooked on the characters and the chemistry.
One particular scene stands out for me. After doing several alternate interpretations, it was replayed one last time in American Sign Language (ASL). It was extraordinary. For 3-4 minutes, the actors signed the scene in total silence. Why couldn’t the characters be deaf in alternate universe? Although I have not had any ASL training, I have no doubt that Cornelius and Toon were well prepared for this scene. I recognized enough signs to know that they were not faking it.
Both actors have a huge challenge; doing multiple versions of a scene with slight variations each time is difficult. Cornelius and Toon are equal to that challenge. Their chemistry is palpable; one never doubts that they belong together despite the cosmic variations of their relationship.
Joye Cook-Levy’s direction is subtle; she has embedded a thousand tiny variations of intonation, facial expression, and pacing into each of the repetitive scenes. Lex Liang’s scenic design is also subtle; he puts the actors inside a honeycomb, each cell of which represents a similar but slightly different reality. Mike Woods lights up the stage and the honeycomb, with subtle shifts in light to bracket each scene.
Constellations is an engaging, compelling, and very different theater experience. It’s a love story, told in a strangely beautiful way. You will find yourself emotionally drained at the final curtain; Constellations ends as many love stories do. I can’t say more without giving away too much, but in my personal universe, Constellations has a ring of truth that will reverberate in my mind for a long time.
Constellations has adult language and adult situations. That said, however, I think a PG-13 rating would be appropriate. Theatreworks does not permit children under 5 at any show.
This show closes on September 25, 2016.
Director: Joye Cook Levy
Scenic Designer: Lex Liang
Costume Designer: Stephanie Bradley
Lighting Designer: Mike Wood
Assistant Lighting Designer: Ryan Finzelber
Sound Designer: Jason Ducat
Master Electrician: Eric Grossenbach
Stage Manager: Alexandra Pingrey
Production Crew: Will Blocker, John Cooke, Jennifer Gebhart, Ruth Geiger, Jonathan Smith.
Production Shop: Benton Gray, Natalie Keil, Charles Redding
ASL Assistance: Julie Novak & Cory McCormick, Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, and James Gardner at Air Rhymes Interpreting.
Marianne: Carley Cornelius
Roland: Patrick Toon