Constellations brings quantum physics, and hints at a multiverse, on stage at Toronto’s Bluma Appel Theatre
Playwright Nick Payne provides a glimpse into quantum possibilities in Constellations, which opened Thursday at the Bluma Appel Theatre. At the end of the play my friend Elaine said “I wish that had lasted longer, it just zipped past.”
Not really something you’d expect to hear about a play that includes string theory and quantum physics. It wasn’t that she felt it was too short or unfinished; she liked it so much that she didn’t want it to end.
Running just 75 minutes, it’s a fairly short play but the length seemed just about right to me. Maybe even a bit too long. I enjoyed the beginning but as the play progressed it started to feel repetitious.
Marianne (Cara Ricketts) is a bubbly theoretical physicist and Roland (Graham Cutherbertson) is a shy bee keeper. Marianne is trying to explain to Roland the idea of a quantum multiverse where different outcomes can exist at the same time. She says “In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever made and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”
The play follows Marianne and Roland from their first meeting through seduction, marriage, illness, to imminent death.
Sounds like a pretty standard love story, doesn’t it? It is and it isn’t. For each point in the relationship there are an infinite number of possibilities, including – right from the beginning – the possibility of no relationship at all. We get to see a number of these possibilities, or alternate realities, along the way.
It took six or seven versions of the first scene before Marianne and Roland actually managed to get together. Initially there was a blackout between the scenes but as the play progressed and, presumably, the audience became more comfortable with what was happening the transition from scene to scene was fast and almost seamless.
The differences between the scenes were often quite small, a change in posture or in the characters positions on the stage. Some of them were bigger, a change of mood which changed the meaning of the scene completely even though the dialogue was the same.
Ricketts and Cutherbertson were good together although I thought their chemistry was better in the quieter parts of the play. Director Peter Hinton managed the pace well, keeping the action moving. This would be a deadly play if it wasn’t fast paced.
The set is plain, a highly reflective black box around the stage and on the stage a circle within a rotating outer circle. Andrea Lundy’s circular lighting hovers above the circle on the ground. Michael Gianfrancesco’s choice of the reflective walls echoes the way the story exists on different levels. Depending on the lighting there were times I could see six characters on three different planes.
Cellist Jane Chan is on stage throughout the performance and her music heightens the atmosphere. Sometimes it’s light and happy, sometimes sad, sometimes threatening.
My favourite part of the play was the series of scenes where Roland proposes. He starts by reading a description of the life of bees. Sometimes the reading is strong and confident, other times quite tentative but the scenes are very funny.
There were a couple of things I didn’t understand although it felt that I was supposed to. I’m sure the ring rotating around the stationary circle is significant, though I don’t know what it signifies. I also didn’t understand why a shoe rotated around the stage in one series of scenes. It’s probably quantum physics.
Elaine really liked Constellations. I enjoyed it but not as much as Elaine did. It was nice though, during a really horrible week, to consider the possibility of a parallel universe where things weren’t so crappy.
- Constellations is playing until November 27th at Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street E)
- Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm
- Ticket prices range from $39 to $99
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-368-3110, and at the box office
Photo of Cara Ricketts & Graham Cuthbertson by Cylla von Tiedemann