Constellations Explores Love in Parallel Universes

image1 (4)With the tagline “Can one word alter the course of your life?” Nick Payne’s Constellations has become the surprise must-see (and must-produce) love story of the 2018 Rhode Island theater season. The Wilbury Theatre Group will present their version in early 2019 and the now-defunct 2nd Story had plans to mount a production as well. First dibs, however, go to Epic Theatre, and the intimate (read: tiny) 50 Rolfe Square location has become ground zero for one of the hottest tickets of the summer.

A combination of science and romance, Constellations is essentially just another love story, but one written with enough sensitivity and attention to dynamics that it has become one of those “perfect” scripts – a two-hander that’s relatively easy to stage and, in the hands of the right director and pair of actors, a sure-fire winner. In a nutshell (see Motif’s review at, Constellations is a boy-meets-girl tale that plays out in a series of vignettes that present a “what if” series of possible outcomes. Every love story needs a terminal illness and we get that, as well as a healthy dose of astronomy, a dash of infidelity and a side of ballroom dancing.

The show that saw Jake Gyllenhaal in his Broadway debut is currently in the more-than-capable hands of director Joanne Fayan and actors Christopher Plonka and Hannah Lum. Motif chatted with Epic artistic director Kevin Broccoli as well as Fayan’s cast to get some insight into this particular production and what’s driving them as they launch the Rhode Island premiere of Nick Payne’s Constellations.

Kevin Broccoli: It’s a small play with big ideas, just the sort of short, two-hander tour de force I wanted after the sprawling ensemble of our season-ender, Wolf Hall. The concept is simple: A couple meets, it doesn’t go anywhere, they meet again.  This time it goes a little further, and, soon, you realize that you’re watching numerous variations of how these two people fall in love, connect, disconnect and face their greatest challenge. The play is heartbreaking and humorous and healing all at once, partly because it poses the idea of parallel universes, where at any moment, we’re all leading every kind of life we can imagine.

Hannah Lum (Marianne): It’s a brilliantly constructed, beautifully written love story. As an actor, it’s been one of the most challenging roles to work on, because although the play and the characters have a definitive arc, the nonlinear structure of storytelling and the repeating sequences of “deja vu” scenes absolutely require you to “trust fall” into the world of the play each time, not necessarily knowing exactly where you’ll end up.

Christopher Plonka (Roland): Well, this has been a pretty exciting ride. I really couldn’t have asked for a better last show in Rhode Island (Plonka leaves the state to attend graduate school shortly after Constellations closes). Kevin told me that this is the smallest show Epic has ever done and we have a great team behind this one.

Lum: Interestingly, this artistic process has mirrored the themes of the play — life is unpredictable, many different outcomes exist based on the decisions you make, and the unanswered questions may always be: Are we ultimately in control of our own existence? Do our actions and reactions determine our fate? Are we just randomly bouncing through space?

Plonka: Hannah and I connect really well on stage and each night we find something fresh in the material that allows us to color things a little differently, which is incredibly helpful when it’s a play about the same situations playing out over and over again. Working with Joanne has been wonderful. It’s been a great collaborative process of trying new things every day and seeing what works, not just in each scene individually, but what makes sense in the greater context and how the show flows from one scene to the next.

Broccoli: Constellations is a beautiful way to spend a summer evening — contemplating the nature of serendipity, and wondering what led us all here and where it’ll take us next.

Plonka: Kevin has been supportive in getting us what we need to transform Theatre 50 into something different than what we’ve seen before. I cannot wait for people to see this one.

Broccoli: It puts a great importance on choices — the ones we make and the ones we don’t make, and I think that’s the sort of thing we should all be thinking about, even as we sit in an air-conditioned theater watching two characters try to work it all out. We’re calling these shows (Constellations and August’s Homos, or Everyone in America) our Summer of Serendipity. These are two plays that allow us to witness people going after what we all want: human interaction and affection. The drama is what happens when they fail, the theater is what happens when they succeed.

 Constellations by Nick Payne is being offered as a limited run thru July 28 at the newly renovated theater at 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston, home to Epic Theatre Company. For tickets: Students/Military are free as part of Epic’s Free Ticketing Program. Curtain time is 8pm for all performances.

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