Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Constellations
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Review by Richard T. Green


Eric Gilde, Ellen Adair
Photo by Eric Woolsey
The Universe, scientists tell us, is a physically hostile and spiritually indifferent place. But Nick Payne's modern romance from 2012 suggests humanity may have its own secret weapon for dealing with it all.

Constellations is also the first play to successfully highlight some of the many mysteries of the "multiverse," the concept suggesting that every little decision we make instantly creates an entirely new universe, 27.64 billion light-years wide, "branching off" from the old one—every second of the day, for every one of us.

And here it's just two performers on stage creating all these new universes, by themselves, for 90 minutes. But don't worry, in Steven Woolf's new production it's a delight (except when it's harrowing, or heartbreaking, or just unexpectedly bizarre).

Mr. Woolf's infinite Adam and Eve are Roland (Eric Gilde) and Marianne (Ellen Adair), who meet (in most universes) at a barbecue in London. And their lighthearted, comical "multiverse relationships" (which may or may not catch fire) are handled in a lovely, down-to-earth way: Constellations could just as easily be read as a (usually comical) meditation on how we "over-think" the minutiae of our relationships, as much as a scientific/absurdist comedy.

Marianne first approaches Roland with an amusing "key to immortality," but of course the great over-arching philosophical joke turns out to be that here any immortality is all "horizontal"—cutting across the same (often) superficial moments, across all the multiverses, over and over—rather than a "longitudinal" sort of immortality, going forward forever in time. She's a physicist trying to reconcile relativity with quantum mechanics, and he's a beekeeper, which develops into a fine "romantic mismatch" right there.

Their incompatible work philosophies are incidental, but gently help in the overall effort to focus our attention upon the quest for free will. Nearly all the other relationship problems are solved in many different ways—comically, tragically, romantically, or ironically in a hundred little scenes (good God, how do they keep it all straight in their actor-heads?). And very gradually a particular "grand unifying theory" emerges, governing their own relationship (the "why" of why they're always reuniting) and the eventual dramatic test of it all.

Anyway, of course you just want to know that it's romantic (it is) and funny (it is) and about humanity's "secret weapon" for dealing with the madness of the multiverse, and the whole "what's the use of trying" conundrum.

Many of the relationships' key moments bring the couple(s) to the brink of disaster, and many times the relationships fail: One character (or another) fails the test of fidelity, while another fails the test of bravely going on in the face of, well, I'm sure you can imagine the worst. It's one couple up there on stage, but (of course) it's all couples too; and a lot of people who should be couples but never will, in one universe or another.

But there's one thing that singles out the successful relationships in Constellations from the infinite number of unsuccessful ones, and that's simply finding a way to endure, and proceed, and not throw away one universe on the promise of another, every time you blink your eyes. Like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard Of Oz, we find the most incredible richness in our own backyard.

The stage is simple but the backdrop is quite beautiful, by Bill Clarke. A majestic, sunlit sky of soft clouds gradually becomes the edge of the universe itself, the billowing "cosmic background radiation" left over from the Big Bang. And these two characters are constantly on the bubble, between all the universes, in a strange space where only God can see.

Through February 5, 2017, in the Studio Theatre of the Rep. For more information visit www.repstl.org

The Players
Marianne: Ellen Adair
Roland: Eric Gilde

Production and Design
Director: Steven Woolf
Scenic Design: Bill Clarke
Costume Design: Lou Bird
Lighting Designer: Ann G. Wrightson
Sound Design and Original Music: Rusty Wandall
Stage Manager: Shannon B. Sturgis


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