Director Joanne Fayan has returned to Epic Theatre Company “to helm the first of two summer shows that look at life and love from every angle of the imagination,” as written on the official Constellations Facebook page. Nick Payne’s Constellations takes us through the various stages of the way humans meet, hook up, break apart, reunite and carry each other through the hard times, and how choices affect relationships. This two-character drama stars Christopher Crider-Plonka (Red Speedo, The Bedroom Plays) as Roland, and Hannah Lum (Life Sucks, The Homecoming) as Marianne.
The cast played well off each other throughout the shifting scenes. I had little difficulty following the intricacy of the relationship between Roland, a beekeeper, and Marianne, a Cambridge University academic specializing in “theoretical early universe cosmology.” Despite the odd job descriptions for this duo, it’s possible to see yourself in the characters since they are as normal and natural as we are. If you’ve ever been in love, it’s hard not to identify with Roland and Marianne, particularly when playing back memories of our romantic circumstances, both euphoric and trying.
Leading lady Lum proffered emotion through her very expressive eyes and facial movements. With Plonka, who also served as lighting designer, emotion becomes apparent via his robust voice. Whether they are blithely dancing or kissing fervidly, yelling angrily or delivering snide remarks, you feel the earnestness exuded between these star-crossed lovers. Their destinies collide as much as they swirl together, starlight refracting from individuals who become one and whirl back again to their lone corners. And while we see them as they see each other, we also are given a glimpse into how they see themselves. Their life changes are at times awkward, also painful, but ultimately they regain their cherished allegiance and their relationship’s youthful innocence.
They are disadvantaged by self-consciousness when they meet, remaining impaired even as they grow closer. Constellations reminds us how rudimentary communication can be, even with those who are closest to us. Verbal exchanges — here both casual and life-changing — tend to be a matter of emotional jeering and even, at one point, hand signaling across an indomitable galaxy.
The costumes are street clothes, immaterial to the production. The low lights move from white — in a room full of celestial patterns on the floor and walls designed by Jillian Eddy — to red each time a situation becomes dire. This is particularly poignant during a scene where there is an unexpected altercation. Pushing the envelope is always a risk, but also adds that certain je ne sais quoi often appreciated when repetition is involved.
Payne’s script is intentionally redundant, which has us jumping around between parallel universes in a 72-minute nebulous wormhole where there is no space in time. Those timeframes are separated by audibly ominous, Twilight Zone-ish zaps and bongs designed by Fayan.
Every shifting scene and posture indicates “a change in the universe,” as the stage direction reads. There are actually only about five concrete scenes in Constellations, however, each of those vignettes is presented repeatedly. This offers the performers a fortuitous opportunity to keep trying out the same lines with different inflections, something seldom seen in live theater. Marianne and Roland meet at a BBQ, and from there it’s boy meets girl, boy loses girl, rinse, repeat. At one point, Marianne explains to Roland that in “the quantum multiverse, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.” You don’t have to be a quantum physicist to find these examples in your own life. At some point or another, you ran circumstances of a breakup over and over in your mind, trying to find reason among the futility of the situation. To further complicate matters, our aging memory throws a wrench into our reiteration, causing changes to that inner voice so easily marred by the tone of someone else’s voice.
Within this universal theme, where words are often not enough to bind us together in our human condition, our stars have the task of making each interpretation a new experience, lest the play leave us sleeping in our seats. Lum and Plonka did a fine job of that, keeping us engaged every step of the milky way.
Tickets can be purchased at artists-exchange.org/epictheatrecompany.html. Be sure to book early to secure tickets for this engagement, which runs July 13 – 28, as many showings are already sold out. All Performances at Epic Theatre, 50 Rolfe Square in Cranston. Students (high school and college) and military receive free tickets to any performance as part of Epic’s Free Ticketing Program. With no intermission, you’ll be tippling a cocktail by 9:30pm after an 8pm showing.