Parallel Universes vs. Us > Instant Replay in Real Time

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BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!

Hudson Stage Company Presents
CONSTELLATIONS
by Nick Payne
With Faith Sandberg, Ben Paul Williams
Directed by Mark Shanahan
Executive Producers Denise Bessette, Dan Foster, Olivia Sklar
Through November 3, 2018
Whippoorwill Theatre @ North Castle Library
Kent Place
Armonk, New York 10504

Order Tickets on Website 
$40 General; $35 Students + Seniors
Also may also be purchased in-person at the theatre ½ hour prior to performance, including $10 student rush ticket

Think about how or where you met your spouse. With a slight shift in timing or physical whereabouts, it’s entirely possible you’d be married to someone else right now, or not at all. In that moment your future was formed, there were many other possibilities waiting to happen, but they didn’t.

That is the underlying premise that author Nick Payne explores theatrically in his high-minded play Constellations, presented by Hudson Stage Company at North Castle Library’s Whippoorwill Theater in Armonk, through Nov. 3. 

When first we meet Marianne and Roland, they are testing the theory that being able to lick your elbows is the secret to immortality. Photo by Rana Faure

Almost as soon as the show begins, audience members can be forgiven if they begin looking at each other quizzically, as if to say, “What on earth is going on?”

What on stage is going on is a most unusual drama, the likes of which you’ve likely rarely, if ever, experienced before. The two characters are having the same exchange with each other several times in succession, but with specific word changes and variations in attitude each time. Think Groundhog Day, the cult Bill Murray movie where he re-lives the same day over and over.

Over the course of the play, set in England, the same two individuals — Marianne (Faith Sandberg) and Roland (Ben Paul Williams) – are placed in a series of life-changing situations. We see how each scenario could have vastly different outcomes. For instance, they meet at a barbecue, but Roland is in a serious relationship. Re-set. They meet at a barbecue, but this time Roland is married. Re-set. They meet at a barbecue, and – aha! — Roland is single.

Using this device throughout the 80-minute piece (no intermission), Mr. Payne illustrates the concept of a multiverse.

In advance of a wedding, Roland has been instructed to sort out his two left feet for a with dance lessons. Photo by Rana Faure

“At any given moment, several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously,” Marianne, a theoretical physicist, tells Roland, a beekeeper. “In the Quantum Multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”

The author clearly has carefully researched the metaphysical science that examines how the choices we make in any given situation are part of a chain that extends to the rest of our lives. It is in those micro-moments that our destiny evolves. What plays out on stage in Constellations is a probing dramatization of how, per the multiverse theory, every possibility exists at once. Our future already is set. Unlike in this play, we never can know how the alternative choices would have developed in the future universes we end up not experiencing.

In none of our equations,” says Marianne, “do we see any evidence of free will. We’re just particles governed by a series of very particular laws…” We hear a touch about string theory, parallel universes, atoms and molecules, quantum mechanics and relativity. It’s nothing like science class, but just enough to tickle our imagination.

Depending on your curiosity quotient and tolerance for entertaining the vast unknown, trying to wrap your head around the notion of a multiverse is either mind-boggling or mind-expanding. I am utterly fascinated by such things. It helps to be to appreciate the high-wire act that Nick Payne is pulling off with this daring piece.

The couple likes to poke fun at each other sometimes. Photo by Rana Faure

In their work, actors are used to the sort of instant replay in real time that unfolds on stage in Constellations. On a movie set, the director will ask the actors in a scene for multiple takes, repeating the same lines for each take, so the director can have a choice during the editing process. Similarly, in auditions, actors may be asked by the casting director to make an adjustment in a reading, repeating the same scene with variants on how it is played. “OK, that was nice, but now, I’d like to see a bit more confusion and less disappointment.”

Shading a performance various ways in an audition is one of the actor’s most formidable tasks. Shading a performance various ways in front of a live audience is much more daunting. In an audition, you can ask for a moment to re-focus. On stage, there are no time-outs — it’s pull out the stops, full steam ahead.

That’s what makes the work here of Faith Sandberg (Marianne) and Ben Paul Williams (Roland) – both members of Actors Equity — exhilarating to watch. There is evident joy in how they embrace and inhabit the veritable ensemble of characters the two of them alone create, conjuring theatrical craft that is crisp and credible.

Mr. Williams, whose physicality evoked, for me at least, the actor Andrew Garfield, is an immensely likable and pliable presence, comfortably adept at conveying a generous range of empathy.

In an on-again, off-again relationship, this looks like one of their on-again moments. Photo by Rana Faure

Director Mark Shanahan wisely has kept the set simple with an abstract honeycomb motif (designed by James J. Fenton) that focuses our attention squarely on the motions, emotions and fates of the characters.

Mr. Shanahan made an ideal match casting Ben Paul Williams opposite the abundantly talented Faith Sandberg, who appeared in the pilot episode of the newly revived Murphy Brown series on CBS-TV.

Ms. Sandberg exudes an inner strength and natural charm that sets the tone for the play. Director Shanahan put it pointedly when he told me on opening night that the two spirited actors are very generous to each other on stage, which the opening night audience recognized with a rousing ovation at curtain call.

In other Hudson Stage Company news, congratulations are in order for producers Denise Bessette, Dan Foster and Olivia Sklar, who have been bringing top-tier theater to the lower Hudson Valley for 20 years. Their outstanding production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s Switzerland from earlier this year will be moving to off-Broadway in February 2019 at the 59E59 Theaters. It is the producing team’s first off-Broadway venture, a fitting tribute to its 20th anniversary.

Constellations director Mark Shanahan (c) congratulates Faith Sandberg and Ben Paul Williams at the opening night celebration. Photo by Bruce Apar


ADDITIONAL TECHNICAL CREDITS
Stage Manager, Emily Roth
Scenery, James Fenton
Lighting, Andrew Gmoser 

Costumes, David C. Woolard
Original Music & Sound, Matt Otto


Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bruce@aparpr.co or 914.275.6887.

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