Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Vortex Theatre
Review by Dean Yannias

Evan Spreen and Michelle Belmont
Photo by Broken Chain Photography
Albert Einstein's famous criticism of the random and probabilistic workings of the quantum world was that "God does not play dice with the universe." But what if Einstein was wrong? What if everything really is a crapshoot? It could happen one way, or another way, or umpteen ways. We think we have free will and some control over what happens, but do we really? Is there only one real world, or are there multiple realities, any of which is equally probable?

This is the premise of Nick Payne's very interesting play Constellations, being performed at The Vortex Theatre in a fine production directed by Levi Gore. Take a man and a woman who meet at a party. Are they attracted to each other, or is one attracted and the other not? Do they move in together or don't they? Do they cheat on each other or don't they? Do they get married or don't they? Is that biopsy benign or malignant? And so on.

These various possibilities are acted out in many brief scenes, and not always linearly, for time does not necessarily move like an arrow in a metaverse. The whole show runs only a little over an hour, but it's exactly the right length for us to experience the various possible lives of this woman and this man, Marianne and Roland.

Marianne is a quantum astrophysicist studying cosmogony, the origin of the universe, from a quantum mechanics point of view. Roland is a beekeeper. Why a beekeeper? Maybe it's a random choice by the playwright, but I suspect it is because bees are a perfect example of the absence of free will. They can only do what nature has determined them to do, be it as a worker, a drone, or a queen. Are humans all that different, or do we only think that we are?

Having Marianne be a quantum physicist is a brilliant choice by Mr. Payne. We pick up a bit of science along the way. For example, I learned that although gravity holds sway in our everyday world of Newtonian mechanics (the "general relativity" world), it is negligible in the quantum realm, so things work differently there. But don't worry, the play is far from being a physics lecture. It's about human interactions that all of us can relate to, from humorous to distressing.

Michelle Belmont and Evan Spreen, two actors who are fairly new to Albuquerque theatre, give wonderful performances. Very naturalistic, no overacting, and convincing British accents. Levi Gore came up with the idea of an in-the-round staging in which the actors dance in the few seconds between scenes, mostly to music by Chopin. They are circling through the various realities of their lives, just as we circle through the constellations year by year. (I don't really know why the play is called Constellations, but it's a thought.) Whoever runs the sound board does a fine job, and the lighting design by Nicholas Fleming is very good too.

The play has been frequently produced all over since it opened in London in 2012. It's easy to see why: small cast, minimalist staging, no costume changes, and a short running time. But it's also because it is a play that assumes that audience members are intelligent and can pay attention to something that is not straightforward. If you are that kind of theatregoer, don't miss it.

Constellations runs through September 10, 2023, at the Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $19 to $24, with some Thursdays being two-for-one. For tickets and information, please visit