See “Constellations” in a New and Amazing Way
“In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”
Living Room Theatre has made a bold choice to produce Nick Payne’s brilliant, award-winning Constellations as its second production staged in the swimming pool at the historic Park-McCullough House in Bennington, and we should all take their lead and dive into this tale of theoretical physics, beekeeping, love, and loss.
Constellations is a two-hander romance between a physicist and a beekeeper, but to dramatize the play’s theme of multiple possible realities, the Living Room Theatre and director Kirk Jackson have cast three women as the physicist Marianne (Valeri Mudek, Nia Ragini & Randolyn Zinn) and three men as the beekeeper Roland (Michael Broadhurst, Oliver Wadsworth & Allen McCullough).
The pair meet cute at a rainy barbecue, date, move in together, and cheat on one another…or do they? Every step forward is accompanied by an alternate reality where the drink is refused, or they go home together, or she puts the brakes on, or he stays the night, or she asks him to leave, and it plays out moving forwards and backwards. It sounds like it would be awfully confusing, but you get the touchstones of their relationship as we return to crucial scenes numerous times and (in this production) with different couples.
Most of the time, the pairs are matched up as Nia Ragini and Oliver Wadsowrth, Valeri Mudek and Michael Broadhurst, and Allen McCullough and Randolyn Zinn. They are all excellent and provide unique pleasures. Stand-out moments include the scene which is signed between Broadhurst and the vibrant Mudek, Ragini high-fiving the women in her showdown with the men, McCullough’s push-ups on the stair railings, Wadsworth’s exuberant comic outbursts, and Zinn’s mournful reading of “Mom wasn’t scared of dying, she was scared of being kept alive.” McCullough’s response is that if it were him, he’d want as much time as possible and if she had another couple of months, he’d love to make a go of it. Well, that’s about as elemental as you can get on a warm summer’s night.
Congratulations and appreciation should go to director Kirk Jackson who keeps these multiple variations on the same story spinning smartly with a quick pace, evocative physicality, and playful pairings. He shared in a talkback Wednesday night that he saw the audience at the pool as students at an operating theater peering down, so he was interested in a play about science when Randolyn Zinn came across Constellations and recommended it. It does feel like the actors were specimens viewed at a remove like in a petri dish. Artists see things differently. I had thought attending a play performed in a pool would rob me of catching their facial expressions or eye contact, but I had no trouble seeing the actors’ full faces.
The play never stops moving with the couples frequently switching partners and doubling back chronologically, but it is all very enjoyable and easy to follow. Cast member Zinn contributes invaluably with the choreography of a waltz. Late in the story, there is a medical issue that dampens the play’s high spirits of invention and flirtation, and Jackson manages the evening’s wide arc masterfully.
The Broadway production with the excellent Jake Gyllenhaal & Ruth Wilson had a stagy feel with them doing all the quick changes, reminding me at times of the David Ives play Sure Thing. I got much more out of the play with the three sets of couples, both in my comprehension of what was going on, and as an illustration of one of its strongest themes.
“Let’s say that ours really is the only universe that exists. There’s only one unique me and one unique you. If that were true, then there could only ever be one choice. But if every possible future exists, then the decisions we do and don’t make will determine which of these futures we actually end up experiencing. Imagine rolling a dice six thousand times.”
In this universe of New England summer theater, I believe it would be an excellent choice for you to take in Constellations at the Park-McCullough House in Bennington. It is smart, exciting theater that will get your mind racing with life’s limitless possibilities, reminding you to make a move before it’s too late.
Through 8/6, Living Room Theatre @ Park-McCullough House
Tickets: [email protected] or 802-442-5322