by Elana Spivack
Is true love written in the stars? In their shared drama thesis, Constellations, an intriguing dramatic comedy by British playwright Nick Payne, seniors Amy Young and Gibson Oakley explore this question and more.
Young plays sharp Marianne, a cosmologist who contrasts with Oakley’s sweet, sensitive Roland, a beekeeper. The play, directed by Clara Mooney ’17, explores their relationship from the perspective of quantum physics. Marianne broadly describes a theory crucial to the play’s overall theme. She mentions that multiple parallel universes exist, exploring every possible choice one could make in a single moment.
The play conveys this idea with a series of similar but slightly modified scenes. For example, the opening scene in which Marianne and Roland meet occurs several times. Each time, Marianne approaches Roland with the same line. First, Roland says he has a girlfriend. The second time, he’s married. Eventually, the audience sees the universe in which Roland is single, and the flame ignites. The same scenario may repeat itself several times, but Roland and Marianne’s choices to lie or tell the truth, to say yes or no, differ throughout the play.
The real fun lies in these modifications. Young and Oakley may reiterate a single situation, but they shine in each version. They tinker with the nuances of each vignette. While Young is timid in one iteration, she’s flirty in the next. Their apparent chemistry enhances each scene. Young’s brash, foul-mouthed Marianne bulldozes Oakley’s Roland, but never without tension bouncing between the two.
Another pleasure is that the audience comes to expect certain details, such as Oakley’s distinct and consistent vocal inflection on the phrase “two left feet.” The quantum physics lens modifies other aspects large and small. There’s a sense of amusement when small elements change slightly. In one conversation, Oakley mentions somebody with terrible dandruff. In the next version of the same conversation, Young mentions somebody going bald. This feeling of amusement turns to foreboding when Young and Oakley start mentioning weightier topics. On the subject of cancer, “phase 1” in one version of a conversation becomes “phase 4” in another.
The nuances don’t always come across to the audience. It’s difficult to portray these changes seamlessly. Sometimes the changes don’t translate, and the only modification seems to be the words of the conversations.
The fun for the audience is to piece together this non-chronological narrative that explores multiple possibilities. Mooney demarcates the repetition of a scene with a quick dimming of the lights as Young and Gibson reset themselves. While this tactic makes sense as a break in time, some transitions were so quick it was difficult to register that the scene had even changed. The quick transition was more of a flicker than a blink.
Yet Mooney effectively milks all she has to work with. The spartan set underscores Young and Oakley’s body language, which is impossible to miss in scene iterations when Young has her arms around Oakley, or when they’re an arm’s-length apart.
This tender puzzle of a play is satisfying. Oakley and Young commit to every moment, and while not every mood comes across clearly, the pair still draws from a broad palette of emotions.
Students and community members can see Constellations at the Hill Theater on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for $2 for all community members at the Bolton Theater Box Office, which is open Monday through Friday from 1-5 p.m., and can be reached at (740) 427-5546.