Review: Constellations, Street Corner Arts
by Michael Meigs
I wanted to see it twice. I needed to see it twice. And it's been so much on my mind that last night in my sleep I worked for a long time on the wording for a review, only to have those decisive phrases dissolve when I roused fitfully in the darkness of the small hours.
Theatre space is plastic, transformable, and theatre time is elastic. Place your audience before a blank black stage with dangling incandescent bulbs and six blocky wooden chairs, and they can be anywhere, anytime.
Any number of times.
It's the old story: girl meets boy, they overcome confusions and obstacles, they become a couple, they break up, they encounter one another later and deal with those hurts and complications. Playwright Nick Payne multiplies those elements, putting characters Marianne and Roland through each of them over and over again, each experience or interchange altered in 'what if.' Theatre time in Constellations isn't just elastic; it's rewound obsessively.
You adapt to the concept with surprising ease, in part because the meet-up scenes, the casual encounter(s) at someone's wedding, play with wryly subversive humor. Adding to the other-worldliness is these Austin actors' convincing use of UK dialect. Marianne (Stephanie Carll) works in the physics department of the university, engaged in abstruse mathematical mysteries both cosmological and atomic; Roland's a beekeeper selling his honey to health food stores. Ryan Hamilton creates him as a diffident, sensitive personality; Carll's Marianne is forceful and yet tangled in complex feelings.
Abruptly interrupting the multiplied story arc are sharp discussions, set apart with harsh white lighting cast from the sides of the playing area. Initially short and obscure, in the course of the 65 minutes of multiple years of this relationship those intervals extend and eventually dominate. The playwright's flash-forward becomes the characters' urgent and immediate now, with a decision and outcome that threaten all the existences we've willingly lived through.
The precision of the actors is both verbal and physical, a sustained accomplishment that brings into reality the concept of alternate universes. The repeated tropes, the cuts established with the help of Patrick Anthony's lighting design, and the intricately choreographed movement combine in unselfconscious ballet. Not played to music but instead to words.
Street Corner Arts provides in this short but moving evening a portrait of a relationship and a meditation on mortality. The script's allusions to science, especially to quantum physics, come from Marianne -- brief, relevant and dealing with the unknowable, and thank God without a whisper of Shrödinger's cat.
Katherine Catmull wrote yesterday that Constellations "just went straight into my heart like a sweet pointy dart last night." Playwright Payne and director Liz Fisher open up Marianne and Roland to one another, and as a result they expose our hearts as well.
December 02 - December 17, 2016
511 West 43rd Street
Austin, TX, 78751
December 2, 2016 – December 17, 2016
Preview Thursday, 12/01
Opening Performance Friday, 12/02 with Opening Party
Wednesday, 12/14 Industry Night
Saturday 12/10, ASL-Interpreted Performance
All other shows Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights at 8 pm
General Admission: $20 ($18 if purchased in advance, $15 for seniors/students if purchased in advance
Group Tickets available upon request
ALL PERFORMANCES AT HYDE PARK THEATRE, 511 West 43rd Street, Austin TX