Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Since its premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2012, Constellations has received a not ironical multiplicity of productions throughout the world, and was staged quite recently in Albuquerque in an excellent production at Desert Rose Playhouse. There are things in common with each of the many productions of this play, as well as things that set each apart. A survey of the reviews of the various theatrical presentations of Constellations reveals a similarity in many of the design elements; but what seems most consistent among these productions is the need for sharp, talented actors willing to surmount the challenges of a Groundhog Day-like reworking and reimagining of the salient moments of a couple's relationship. Marianne, who is a quantum physicist, explains to Roland, the down-to-earth beekeeper with whom she has fallen in love, the concept of the infinite possibilities existing simultaneously in the Quantum Multiverse: "Every choice, every decision you've ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes."
Can you build a play around this idea? You certainly can, but it won't be an actor-proof one. Alexandra Renzo, who plays Marianne, and Scott Harrison, who plays Roland, are more than up to the task of giving us a head-spinning number of variations on a theme. They never miss a beat when it comes to the sometimes jarring transitions, as new alternative interactions are explored, some of which go off in a radically new direction, others of which replicate dialogue with emotional modulations that only a good actor can pull off. Renzo and Harrison are more than good actors: they are mesmerizing, and their multiple interpretations of these characters are riveting.
Director Lynn Goodwin has put her actors through some incredible paces, lucidly laying out a throughline of emotional and, by turns, tragic and ultimately hopeful progression that never gets lost in the all dramaturgical legerdemain. Granted, Constellations, like Groundhog Day, is constructed around a gimmick, but in the hands of actors who can find the truth in each moment, regardless of how disparate, Payne's surgically crafted dialogue creates opportunities for exciting theatricality.
The design elements are spare. The production team has decided not to go with the cosmic-cutesiness of geometrics and planetarium-like star shows. There is a nicely understated suggestion of the cosmos in Alexandra Pontone's dappling of the possibly stellar upon the bare stage. Sudden transitions to new realities are helped along by shifts in lighting that are functional, while unobtrusive. The production has original music written by Goodwin and Dale Dunn and performed by Ms. Dunn. I appreciated the fact that this production allows musicsometimes only the plink of a single piano keyto aid in changing from one reality permutation to the next. I'm reminded of how many composers through history have explored multiverses in their music, with "variations on a theme" being a popular musical formula.
I don't think I'd be giving too much away to say that a serious health issue raises the stakes for Marianne and Roland and its manifestation challenges their ability to communicate using traditional language tools. The issue adds another level of investment for the audience, but it also challenges our own ability to put head over heart when the emotionally wrenching hearts displayed through Renzo and Harrison's portrayals are so poignantly involving. In discussing the play with my wife after coming home, she asked if one of the realities presented had a particular character in the play not dying. I said yes. She replied with a smile, "Well, that's the reality I would choose." And yet Renzo and Harrison's ability to bring such powerful, emotional clarity to each moment in the play makes it difficult not to leave parts of ourselves scattered all about that stage.
Constellations proves that there will always be stories to be told and themes pertaining to the human condition to be explored for which live theater and its willingness to experiment and innovate will be the perfect vehicle. And just as each production of this play constitutes, in a sense, a different multiverse reality of its own, I am taking my wife Mary's advice and parking myself in one particular reality that is an easy choice: this new local production of Constellations at the Adobe Rose Theater here in Santa Fe.
Constellations, through April 1, 2018, at the Adobe Rose Theatre, 1213B Parkway Drive, Santa Fe NM. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 3:00. Information and tickets at www.adoberosetheatre.org or 505-629-8688. The running time is about 75 minutes. There is no intermission.