Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
Imagine if all the decisions you ever – and never – made, actually happened somewhere in a quantum multiverse – a place where many universes exist simultaneously. This is the premise of Nick Payne’s drama Constellations, presented by Canadian Stage & Montreal’s Centaur Theatre Company at the Bluma Appel Theatre. The play has previous delighted audiences in London’s West End and on Broadway. Payne, a leading voice in UK theatre, began writing the play after his father’s death, when he happened to see physicist Brian Greene’s documentary The Elegant Universe (based on Greene’s own book by that name). Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Ricketts & Cuthbertson performing. Cellist Jane Chan -stage left
Director Peter Hinton notes that, “For Payne, the notion that there might be a universe in which his father had not died (is) both ‘curiously unhelpful and quietly consoling.’” This idea of a multiverse also appeared in The Rabbit Hole, which I recently reviewed. It is fascinating to see how ideas drawn from quantum physics are weaving their way into theatre and other arts. Don’t worry: you do not have to be a physicist to enjoy this play and find it meaningful. It will touch your heart and stir your mind.
In the two-character, one-act drama, we see the theme of possibility play out in the romantic relationship between Marianne, a physicist (Cara Ricketts) and Roland, a bee-keeper (Graham Cuthbertson.) The wonderful script and excellent, finely-tuned acting by both Ricketts and Cuthbertson provide a moving story – or set of stories, as the characters explore the multiple possibilities of their relationship – will they get together or not? will they stay together or separate? what happens when they meet again, years later? how will they face death – or recovery? Each scene repeats, with minor and major variations in wording and in emotional tone, as the lovers move through their permutations. They are accompanied on stage by cellist Jane Chan, whose impeccable playing suggests “the music of the spheres.” Sound design is by Peter Cerone.
The stunning set, designed by Michael Gianfrancesco, embodies the theme of the play: the actors perform on a large circular platform, sometimes stationary, sometimes spinning (like a planet) while the actors race around the perimeter. Behind them are two large, curved, semi-reflective mirrors, set at different angles, which show the characters’ shifting images – an elegant visual representation of their shifting lives. Gianfrancesco also designed the costumes. Andrea Lundy’s effective lighting takes us through subtle – and sometimes intense – changes of mood. Hinton’s superb directing keeps the play moving at just the right pace, balancing wit and emotion.
In our own lives, we often question our decisions – should I have travelled here, taken that job, married this person? It is perhaps reassuring, if also unsettling, to think that there is no absolute certainty, no “right or wrong,” and our various choices can exist simultaneously. For me, this does not make the lives we choose to live meaningless; we need to live with care, whatever choice we make (or whatever befalls us), but the idea of a multiverse may extend our imagination and help us feel lighter, less constrained by each decision or event. Constellations runs at the Bluma Appel Theatre through Nov. 27th.