The scientific theory of the multiverse, where there are infinite universes in which every possibility may have already happened, is a difficult idea to wrap the mind around but we play with these hypotheticals all the time. What would my life be like if I hadn’t met that person? How would my life be different if I hadn’t taken that job? Or maybe, what would I do if I ever got sick?
Nick Payne’s 2012 script Constellations takes the theory of the multiverse and applies it to the relationship of two people Roland (Tommy James Green) and Marianne (Caitlyn Cabrié). In short, sharp, non-chronological scenes, the audience is taken through many, many versions of Roland and Marianne’s relationship from their first meeting at a friend’s barbeque, through their first tipsy date, varying confessions of infidelity, and finally to a tragic diagnosis that they also navigate together. The story is romantic in imagining many universes but specifically narrowing on the ones in which Roland and Marianne end up together as though their love was fated, written in the stars.
Despite the exceptional framing of the characters, director Isaac Downey chose a realistic approach to the production informed by the relationship’s sense of authenticity. In this way, the repeating scenes were slight shifts, subtle fractures and resettings, rather than drastic transportation between character and emotions. At the same time, the modest scenes served to amplify the stakes of the multiverse as well as Marianne’s health concerns, which allowed the tension of those two critical elements to drive the production. The lighting design by Downey and Jeremy Cardew was similarly reserved with footlights lining the black boxes of the set design and a mix of blues and purples projecting the galactic atmosphere of space onto the back black curtain.
All of the choices in production design and direction indicated that the intrinsic element of the production was the relationship between Roland and Marianne as it was used to imaginatively generate the entire world that orbited around each of their universes. Green and Cabrié had strong chemistry with a cheerful disposition full of laughter and silly jokes. Cabrié’s Marianne was loud and animated, quick to laugh. Frequently, this penchant for throwing her body and voice into her performance meant her articulation faltered or her hair became a distracting curtain completely obscuring her performance from the audience, which was disappointing when nearly the entire production rested on the actors’ voice and expression. Green’s performance was less spirited but the subtlety in his ability to change the tone or direction of conversation with a tweaked inflection or tenser expression was deft and intriguing. Perhaps ironically, the duo were strongest in the scenes where their characters struggled to communicate whether due to nerves at first meeting, surprise at re-meeting after a break-up, or when struggling to articulate their overwhelming feelings. In these moments, the silences opened up, just like the scene transitions, to hint at the possibilities alive in that pause, all the weight that hung on the character’s very next word.
Yet, for all the romance wrapped up in a multiverse of fated meetings and true love’s triumph, the script was still more of a scaffold than a full-bodied narrative, like an acting exercise that the audience imposed an emotional arc upon. So, while Constellations was interesting, well-performed, and well-considered it was ultimately unsatisfying for only having so far to go.
Constellations is running at St Aidan’s from August 19th – 28th
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