Constellations, Gate Theater review – melodrama in the multiverse

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A boy meets a girl at a rain-soaked barbecue. They succeeded. Or maybe they don’t. On the contrary, they got along well in a version of reality, but not in a parallel universe. Indeed, their relationship plays out in a myriad of different ways across the infinite permutations of the multiverse.

The principle inspired by quantum mechanics Constellations sounds byzantine. And yet, despite his background in theoretical physics, this 2012 twin of Nick Payne has an underlying structural simplicity. The thirty-year-old duo first perform variations on a handful of scenes centered on the twists and turns of seduction. It then veers in a dark direction amid anxious exchanges about cancer and assisted suicide. Despite all the rehearsals of Pinterish, Payne’s play, which makes its Irish debut here, feels topsy-turvy like old-school melodrama.

As Roland, a mute beekeeper, Brian Gleeson exudes an awkward charm as he strives to woo Sarah Morris’ Marianne with demonstrations of us beekeeping. A guy who can brag about making honey on the roof of his downtown apartment should have no trouble getting into romance. But his clumsy requests for “feedback” after a calamitous date point to a lost soul longing to escape the emotional upheaval of humanity for the predictable world of the hive. In the play’s comic climax, he even resorts to a prepared speech about the sex life of bees (which alternately carries the day and falls flat in different sections of the multiverse).

Marianne superficially serves as a cerebral foil to Roland’s bewildered farmer. An academic working in “theoretical cosmology of the early universe”, she thus offers a clear insight into the concept of parallel universes as well as the tensions between quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. But, oscillating between effusive flirtation and indifference, Marianne finally seems as ill-equipped as Roland to navigate the turbulent currents of love and desire.

In ‘Constellations’, love is determined by a series of accidents © Ros Kavanagh

Morris deftly navigates these emotional shifts in a performance that exploits the play’s central conceit to reveal rival versions of her character. She and Gleeson display great chemistry. And yet, we never forget that their relationship rests on shaky physical ground. Love emerges here not by fate but by a series of fortuitous accidents which, in several versions of the story, never occur.

With a few adjustments to the script, the play’s setting was seamlessly moved from London to Dublin. The 75-minute staging by Marc Atkinson Borrull, performed on a bare stage lined with mirrors, nevertheless creates an ethereal atmosphere that evokes the intangibility of space and time. The only certainty here is the fatality of death, which becomes the dominant theme of the last half hour.

These sections provide a stark contrast to Marianne and Roland’s earlier iterative banter. But they also feel a bit contrived. After playing with emotional and narrative ambiguity, Constellations settles into a familiar furrow of pervasive medical catastrophe. The effect is rather soapy and detracts from explorations of the piece’s contingency. After so much insistence on the random gyrations of existence, Constellations ends up feeling predictable as it heads toward its own painful denouement.

★★★☆☆

As of June 2, gatetheatre.ie

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