by Lynn on November 11, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Nick Payne
Directed by Peter Hinton
Set and Costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco
Lighting by Andrea Lundy
Sound by Peter Cerone
Cast: Graham Cuthbertson
Cara Ricketts.

An exquisite production about the randomness of relationships and their many possible variations.

The Story. Marianne is a physicist and Roland is a bee keeper. They meet by chance; form a relationship; go through the rocky waters of that relationship; deal with devastating news and commit to each other. This is from the playtext, “Constellations is a play about free will and friendship, quantum multiverse theory, love and honey.” Which I think says it nicely.

The Production. Director Peter Hinton and his splendid design team have imagined an exquisite production in which the space seems something otherworldly, as if the characters are revolving in space although the play takes place on earth.

In keeping with quantum multiverse theory—if the stars/planets align there are many variables on the direction of the planets and stars–we see at least three variations on the various scenes to see the directions the story can go, since free will is at play as well.

In Michael Gianfrancesco’s set there are large spheres stage right—white, black—on the floor and floating a bit above the floor. Are they planets as in a constellation? One can imagine. The main playing area is in fact a large, flat, circular platform that revolves (like a planet?) at times and at other times is still. Depending on the progress of the relationship, the platform revolves slowly or very quickly. When the platform revolves quickly the characters are rooted to the spot, leaning in a bit to be ground down more in space. There are shiny, see-through ‘plastic’ walls at the sides and one at the back. The two characters are reflected on the ‘wall’ in such a way that we see three reflections of the two characters moving around the set. Sometimes the third reflection is feint, sometimes not. It all works to create the sense of the shifting relationship.

While I’m sure the large ring suspended above the stage is for lights, on its own it looks like the ring from Saturn or the flight path of some planet or other. At times Andrea Lundy’s evocative lighting of the playing surface changes and reflects differently on the back wall. Sometimes the center of the playing surface is darkened into its own circle within the circumference, sometimes not. It’s interesting to see how the lighting change is associated with either character. Cellist Jane Chan sits off left, playing music that reflects the scene. Sometimes the music is melodic, lush and complex when he couple is engaging and ‘together’, sometimes it’s almost cacophonous and ragged when the couple is quarreling, accusatory, uncertain.

At the heart of the production is the beating heart of the play. Peter Hinton’s direction is so sensitive, detailed and thoughtful in establishing those delicate relationships. Initially when Marianne and Roland meet Hinton stages them close to each other, conversing. Marianne speaks various (pick-up?) lines to Roland to start a conversation. He, wary of her, says he’s in a relationship. She winces in embarrassment. Blackout. The scene is played again, with different inflections and placement in the space with a different outcome. Blackout. And again. There is intimacy in their embarrassment and eventually the relationship grows. Depending where they are in the relationship Marianne and Roland stand on the rim of the playing area talking to each other across the way as the space revolves. It’s a different kind of intimacy now. It is an almost constant movement of two people trying to find their way to be together, sometimes having to part, being supportive when one needs it badly, and loving each other.

The performances are a gift. As Marianne, Cara Ricketts is a confident woman unafraid of making the first move and speaking her mind. She has the confidence to live with her blunders and laugh about it, but keep trying. Graham Cuthbertson, as Roland creates an awkward man trying to manoeuvre the rocky waters of relationships. He is both forthright and accommodating.

Comment. Playwright Nick Payne is a young, British playwright who is terrifically bright and writes plays that examine “what if.” In Constellations he throws in quantum multivers theory to shake things up. There are many universes out there that have many possibilities of how things work out. So each scene in Payne’s play is played in three variations of tone, voice, attitude etc. by the two characters.

Peter Hinton has directed an exquisite production thanks to his creative team and delicately, firmly shows us variations on a theme of friendship, free will, love and finding ones independent way with a dollop of honey. While there are program notes on Quantum Multiverse Theory, of course you do not need a degree in physics to understand the play, just an open-heart, mind and compassion. When the stories/worlds align the story can go in several different directions and work out in the most wonderful ways, or not. Most importantly it’s a play about love and coincidence. And we all know about that.

It’s a complex play that draws you in carefully and doesn’t let you look away for a second.

Canadian Stage Presents:

Opened: Nov. 10, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 27, 2016.
Cast: 1 man, 1 woman
Running Time: 90 minutes approx.

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