Hypothetically speaking, imagine if you will, a quantum multiverse where parallel universes coincide affecting the principles of time, space and even scientific law.
Fortunately, the string theory schematics become less mystifying with the aid of co-stars Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time) and Allen Leech (Downton Abbey), both luminous in this 80-minute production chock-full of laughs, tears and theoretical questions likely to plague your mind, long-after the production is over.
Also, one need not be a scientist to understand the non-linear story or a romantic to fall (faster than gravitational pull) in love with Nick Payne’s two-hander masterpiece “Constellations” which recently made its Los Angeles debut at the beautiful Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.
For University of Cambridge quantum physicist Marianne (Goodwin), the unimaginable happens forcing her to make some life-altering decisions. Lucky for her, she met beekeeper, Roland (Leech) at a barbecue one fateful afternoon and their celestial romance unfolds before our eyes – over and over again. We begin to witness the couples courtship, proposal, indiscretions and reconciliation play out on stage, followed by several alternate outcomes we soon find out is happening simultaneously.
Goodwin and Leech had the grueling task of portraying their respective characters with virtually no stage direction, except for specific key moments noted on the script – one being Roland slapping Marianne across her face in a rather troubling scene as explained by Goodwin during the talk-back following Tuesday nights performance. Director, Giovanna Sardelli also informed the actors that she’d always imagine the couple would end up together at the conclusion of each narrative, no matter what they were going through. So the actors went with that.
Besides having wide-artistic range, Goodwin joked that she and co-star Leech relied heavily on one another (by whispering reminders during an embrace for example) to help them remember which rapid succession scene was to follow. And it certainly worked as neither actor missed their marks and even made the time-space continuum appear…well, rather tangible. Interestingly enough, despite the repetition, never once did the play feel redundant, giving praise to the talents of the virtuoso actors and their ability to breathe life into each reoccurring scene making it seem brand-new.
Goodwin’s quirky demeanor, British accent and lively facial expressions (think Audrey Hepburn) balanced the seriousness and constraints of Leech’s reserved character except for when he recites an anecdote of the mating habits of bees as the interlude for his proposal to Marianne with a perfect blend of silliness and awkward boyish charm.
The actors also delved into British Sign Language, which is very different from American Sign Language, most impressive for Goodwin, who is American and Leech, who is Irish-born in one of the infinite timelines illustrating a hearing-impaired Marianne as she communicates her devastating news through BSL.
With the exception of a few props manipulated by tracks underneath the stage, the only other sensory components encompassing the black box set were the ingenious lighting design by Lap Chi Chu and sound effects by Lindsay Jones, both elements serving as a shift or cut-scene before the characters start over in another likely synopsis.
Undoubtedly, all the stars aligned perfectly last night as I observed one of the best plays produced in recent years. “Constellations” is an emotional roller-coaster for all parties involved, apparent by Ms. Goodwin’s real-life tears during curtain call – and yes, we were all crying alongside her. The ending is open to interpretation, just like the hypothesis, however, I am confident that everyone’s life (or multiverse lives) would be enriched by seeing this new, exquisite production at The Geffen Playhouse.
“Constellations” is playing at The Geffen Playhouse now through June 23, 2017. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at (310) 208-5454 or Order Online.
Photos courtesy of Chris Whitaker