How do things change over time? Do events or situations ever really repeat themselves? These are the types of questions found at the heart of Bonn Studio’s newest play.
Constellations: A Play was a play written by Nick Payne in 2014. The play is the winner of the London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play. The Boston College Dramatics Society presents Constellations through Dramatists Play Service from Nov. 10 through 12.
Director Ted Kearnan, MCAS ’17, does a great job of providing an experience that seems very true to what Constellations is supposed to be. The directorial style is complemented by appropriate choices in music and sound, with Julianne Mason, MCAS ’17, on sound design.
The play opens with a man and a woman. The woman casts shy glances in the man’s direction, hoping he will notice her. She finally summons the courage to approach him and awkwardly asks, “Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbows?” He uncomfortably responds that he is in a relationship. She walks away. The characters then reset. The woman goes to him and asks, “Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbows?” with a hand on his leg this time. He again rebukes her and moves to sit elsewhere. She follows him across the stage and asks, “Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbows?” This time, they introduce themselves as Marianne (Meghan Hornblower, MCAS ’17) and Roland (David Makransky, MCAS ’17). While they try in vain to lick their elbows, Roland tells Marianne that he is married. Reset. Marianne asks, “Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbows?” Roland’s story this time is that he is a beekeeper and he makes honey. Marianne, incredulously, asks if he is able to make a living keeping bees. He replies, with laughter, that he manages to do so.
In the next scene, Marianne is sitting on the floor talking to Roland. She tells him that she doesn’t think she can go back to work. The scene changes again, this time with Roland and Marianne during an earlier stage in their relationship, arriving back at her apartment. Roland thinks it best that he leaves, but she offers him a place to stay. They reset. She asks him to leave this time. The scene is repeated many times, often with the same lines of dialogue. The changing variable is the inflection and following events. The feelings and emotion that ornblower and Makransky inject into these two characters are what makes each scene, similar though they may be, so very different and special.
They both work very well with each other, as evidenced by the chemistry that can be felt simply as an audience member. These two really become their characters. Even the minute details of their facial expressions fit perfectly with the situation and scene. At one point in the play, they have repeated a scene a few times, but when they reset to repeat it again, there is a remarkable change. This time, the dialogue-heavy scene is performed entirely with sign language. There is a lag between watching them gesture with their hands, completely silent, and the realization that they are repeating the lines in what is really a different language. Scenes like these make Constellations engaging and work to challenge the viewer to play an active role in the play-going experience.
Constellations is performed in the Bonn Studio Theater. Those familiar with the room will know that it has a unique arrangement. The play takes place on a ground-level thrust stage. This means that the stage is situated so that the audience is seated on three sides of the space, a set-up that makes the audience feel like the action is taking place right between them.
The play definitely causes some initial confusion to a viewer unfamiliar with the source material. If you stick with it, however, and allow yourself to fall into the story that Constellations is telling, it can definitely be a very interesting experience. The play is filled with a multitude of very deep and profound topics, with an emphasis on theoretical physics and quantum mechanics.
Marianne brings up the uselessness of the construct of time and the power to take life into one’s own hands in the face of disease and death. Constellations also portrays, on the other hand, more relatable problems, such as love, betrayal, and hope. Constellations also toys with the idea of time. None of the scenes take place in chronological order, and there are moments when it is difficult to keep up with Constellations’s multiple leaps forward, backward, and sideways in time.
Constellations, as Kearnan puts it, is about, “the temporality of theatre.” No two shows, no two production nights, no two scenes are ever exactly the same. Constellations certainly embraces this philosophy. The play sets out to reach a very artistic goal, and it succeeds. While the play might not be for everyone, Constellations is a unique experience that, if viewed properly, is a great and enjoyable experience as well.