Cambridge’s Central Square Theatre is presently showing Nick Payne’s imaginative Constellations under the auspices of the Underground Railway Theatre as a Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT. Every year a play whose source is scientific knowledge is offered at the Central Square Theatre and supported by MIT as a means of amalgamating art and science.
Constellations is based on string theory which postulates the presence of multiple coexisting universes. The play involves both a troubled and growing relationship between its two characters, Marianne (Marianna Bassham) and Roland (Nael Nacer), both of whom seem, at least at the beginning, incompatible. Marianne is a quantum physicist at Cambridge University while Roland is a beekeeper who harvests and sells his own honey. Nonetheless, she flirts with him when they meet at a barbecue, only to be rejected when Roland tells her he is not interested since he has just broken up with a girlfriend.
The second and third scenes resemble the first except that the dialogue differs somewhat. Roland is married in the second, divorced in the third. It is only then it begins to become clear that in this story of girl meets boy the events are taking place in parallel universes or as some scientists would say in a multiverse.
Although intellectually they are on a different level, Roland is extremely articulate and informative in describing the life of honey bees, where each bee is assigned a distinct role. Is the playwright suggesting that in contrast with bees human beings are endowed with free will?
Eventually, Marianne and Roland become lovers and live together. In each universe, infidelity plays a role.
As characters, Marianne and Roland are aware only of the universe in which they are present during Constellations’ various scenes. As actors, they must play the complexity of the lives given them by the playwright.
Marianne, diagnosed with a non-cancerous tumor, rejoices. Diagnosed with treatable cancers in another universe, she accepts chemotherapy. In a third instance, she finds out that the cancer will kill her.
Both Mariana Bassham and Nael Nacer are strong actors who are convincing as their somewhat awkward and socially inept personae who, nevertheless, are deeply involved with each other. Congratulations are also due them for their consistently believable British accents.
Scott Edmiston’s direction is spot on. The actors are almost always blocked so that they face each other as if there were no one else in their particular world of the moment, as indeed there is not.
The entire show is of a piece. Scenic designer Susan Zeeman Rogers and the lighting designer Jeff Adelburg worked together to create an extraordinary sense of other universes. Above the stage is a curved mirror which by reflecting the actors from above gives the impression that other Mariannes and Rolands abide there as well as on the platform where they are standing or lying down. At other times, the lights shining down on the stage give it a mirrored effect as well. The stage is bare of furniture except for a seldom-used beautiful glass-like antique style chair placed stage left. At moments, the red lights surrounding the front of the stage shine.
Charles Schoonmaker devised close to matching outfits for Marianne and Roland – he in off white pants and a white shirt with rolled up sleeves and light gray sneakers and she in a becoming white top, whose sleeves are also rolled up, with matching tight pants, and shod with gray and white fabric flats.
Constellations plays at the Central Square Theatre through October 8, 2017
Reviewed by Jane Baldwin. Photo by A.R. Sinclair.
Written by Nick Payne
Directed by Scott Edmiston
Scene Designer Susan Zeeman Rogers
Costume Designer Charles Schoonmaker
Lighting Designer Jeff Adelberg
Music and Sound Design Dewey Dellay
Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer