We’ve all dreamt of a cosmic reset button that would give us a second chance at some life-changing decision. Life would be different if only I’d done A instead of B.
Nick Payne‘s two-character play “Constellations” — it just opened in a Kansas City Repertory Theatre production on the Copaken Stage — provides a glimpse of existence’s myriad possibilities.
At heart it is a love story.
Or, more accurately, the play contains an infinite number of love stories, all unfolding in countless alternative universes.
Sounds confusing in the retelling, but not in the watching. Payne’s concise writing, the exquisitely-timed direction of Rep artistic director Eric Rosen and the performances of Bree Elrod and Tuc Watkins effortlessly bring all these possibilities together.
The relationship of Marianne (Elrod), a university cosmologist, and Roland (Watkins), a beekeeper, is presented in dozens of scenes, some running a couple of minutes, others whizzing by in just seconds (and each ending with a perfectly timed blackout).
The script concentrates on just a handful of developments.
Marianne and Roland meet at a barbecue, then go to her apartment.
Marianne and Roland’s relationship is wracked by infidelity.
Marianne and Roland run into each other years later at a ballroom dance class.
Marianne and Roland contend with the brain tumor that is robbing her of the ability to speak and will probably kill her.
Each of these scenes is played out multiple times, with slight variations in each iteration. Each variation paves the way for new twists in the Marianne/Roland saga.
The notion of an endless helix of possibilities is embodied even in Jason Sherwood’s set, a coil of spiraling library shelves that curl around a circular rotating playing area like a section of a gigantic Slinky toy.
What’s wonderful about the performances of Elrod and Watkins (you may recognize him from TV gigs like “One Life to Live” and “Desperate Housewives”) is that despite the variations of circumstances in which the characters find themselves, their essential personalities are unchanging.
She’s a science nerd who gets almost giddy talking about string theory, general relativity and quantum mechanics; he’s a salt-of-the-earth type never happier than when he’s lugging around a roiling hive of honeybees.
They may seem like an unlikely couple, but you know what they say about opposites attracting.
With most plays you can describe how the story ends. Not with this one. “Constellations” posits that there is no one reality, that dozens of them are unfolding side by side, each as valid as the next.
In one you fall in love and live happily ever after. In another, your relationship fails and you develop a terminal illness.
The key is to embrace all of those possibilities. And through humor, sadness and even a moment of violence, “Constellations” shows us how.