A beekeeper and an academic meet at a barbecue. That’s what happens in the opening scene of Nick Payne’s brazenly unconventional play Constellations, and it’s the only certainty he provides, the only concrete plot point we can latch onto. The rest of this time-bending experiment is comprised of probabilities to explore, options to navigate, theater games to play. They continue chatting, and they don’t. They marry, and they don’t. Infidelities are committed, and they’re not. Nothing happens, and everything happens. This is quantum
Never one to shy away from
The show only runs about 70 slippery minutes, but its rich emotional aftertaste belies its brevity. It stars Katherine Amadeo as the academic, a Cambridge professor of astronomy named Marianne, and her offstage husband Antonio Amadeo as Roland, the beekeeper. Judging by the accents—which, it must be said, Katherine maintains better than Antonio—it’s set in the U.K.
In their first few exchanges, and many thereafter, the
This is how Constellations progresses, in fits and starts, with some possibilities looping forward from the same baseline conversation so many times that audience members will become as familiar with the script as the actors are. This is how life events, from marriages forged and broken to terminal illnesses, proceed, in all their myriad options, barely allowing us time to process one reality before plunging us into a diametrically opposed one. Sometimes there’s even a glitch in the matrix, where we get a taste of a potential future or a reminder of a possible past before bringing us back to the “present,” whatever that is.
This might sound like a lot of work to sit through, but the reason Constellations isn’t as dense as a Michio Kaku thesis is because Payne spells out his intentions with cosmological double entendres, such as Marianne’s
Putting aside, if you can, its string-theoretical mind-fucks, Constellations is above all a heady meta-study in the art of performance—a revelatory overview of the choices actors and directors make to elicit desired responses. In one version of a painful scene in which Marianne reveals an affair she’s been having with a colleague, Katherine Amadeo delivers the news with guilt; in another, defiance, but with a sensitivity for Roland’s feelings; in another, outright contempt, which suggests her relationship to Roland has already been skidding toward its end.
Antonio pulls off a similar spectrum of emotionality in his responses, and his zenith arrives a few scenes later, in a series of marriage proposals that runs a gamut from bumbling to monotonous to confident. In these alternatives, featuring the exact same words but performed with marked differences in intonation and implication, director Joseph Adler shows us how the sausage is made. And instead of choosing one option, the actors have the rare, liberating permission to explore them all.
Antonio and Katherine, who never leave the stage for the play’s entirety, rise and frequently exceed this central challenge of playing subtle variations on the same fundamental characters. Often, this means transitioning from light comedy to tear-stained tragedy in the space of a brief sound cue, and both transcend these jolting reality lapses. They even learned sign language for one reality, and each hand gesture is deeply felt.
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As for the “point” of the play, it’s entirely up to each spectator. It probably goes without saying that not everybody will love this play or this production, which not only colors outside narrative lines—it erases lines altogether. But it’s the
Best of all? It’ll make you look up at the stars again.
Through December 20, at GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; $47-$60; 305-445-1119, gablestage.org