By Patrick Hurley
The contrast between the fractured theoretical and the temporal hinges upon the smallest of variables, and is reliant on the infinite number of possibilities that determine the course of one’s life. How then can we justify the experiences we have as being the only possible actualities in a universe filled with alternatives?
Constellations, a play by Nick Payne, playing now at the Geffen Playhouse, takes the complexities of string theory, most specifically the theory of the multiverse, and whittles it down into a love story wherein the smallest change in the smallest way, something as simple as the different pronunciation of a single word, has life altering effects. It suggests that experience, in this case love, is not subject to time, because time is not a thing that actually exists, and instead asks us to accept that love is a totality in and of itself and whether we experience it for a moment or a lifetime doesn’t actually matter. We get the time we get for each experience, and this play is oddly optimistic in it’s tragic unfolding because there is an argument that we should ignore how much time we get to share with someone we love, and instead focus on the fact that time is artificial, and whether in this universe or a parallel one, things are not necessarily over. And yet, it’s also saying, we get the time we get, no more, no less. Free will is a man made construct meant to comfort those of us who shrill at the prospect of considering our existence to be nothing more than a physical phenomenon, a cosmic mistake that generated a clump of cells that would evolve into a being with a prefrontal cortex, thus making self awareness a curse that drives human beings to find an answer to the question that is our existence.
Constellations is a beautifully simple, and intellectual play that allows some breathing room for greater interpretation because it doesn’t try to answer any big questions, it instead smartly presents us with a hypothetical. Marianne (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Roland (Allen Leech) meet at a barbecue one day, and we watch their relationship evolve in a series of alternate universes. Scenes move rapidly, with a dreamlike quality where pieces of furniture slide in and out and clusters of white balloon-like lights are suspended overhead and change color to indicate different realities. Scene after scene we are presented with a terrific example of repetition and revision, where audiences are challenged to assess not only the meaning of language, but also the traditional story arc. Through the use of a spiraling timeline alongside a plethora of repetitions, this play has the expressive quality of a piece of music.
Director Giovanna Sardelli deftly holds everything together, and with inventive lighting by designer Lap Chi Chu creates a beautifully heightened world that is completely accessible and absorbing. Both Allen Leech and Ginnifer Goodwin are exceptional. The convention of repetition is deliciously theatrical, but depends entirely on an actor’s ability to give sometimes four different line readings within a minute, and not only keep them subtle, but also allow us to track them without much effort. And these two actors succeed admirably.
Watching the story unfold in different variations is at once fascinating and completely disheartening, Nick Payne has written a play that feels like a romantic comedy, and yet the larger thematic developments make it also appear to be a problem play. It has the same feel as a political piece wherein the underlying scientific aspects of quantum physics are the idea engine that fuels the narrative. But this is as personal a love story as you can get, so it’s as smartly crafted as it is enjoyable. It will start conversations dependent upon each audience member’s personal experience. To a certain extent, it’s subjective to the viewer, which is sometimes what art must do in order to be seen. And this absolutely must be seen!
By Nick Payne
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
Opening Night: Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Closing Night: Sunday, July 16, 2017
Monday No performance
Tuesday – Friday 8:00 p.m.
Saturday 3:00 and 8:00 p.m.
Sunday 2:00 and 7:00 p.m.
Tickets currently priced at $32.00 – $90.00. Available in person at the Geffen Playhouse box office, by phone at 310.208.5454 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org. Fees may apply.
Rush tickets for each day’s performance are made available to the general public 30 minutes before show time at the box office. $35.00 General / $10.00 Student
Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024