“One relationship, infinite possibilities” is the tagline for Nick Payne’s “Constellations,” which was featured Nov. 15-20 at the Emera Center at the University of Maine. The two-man performance, featuring actors Amelia Courtney and John Logan, depicts the progression of the relationship between a man and a woman. The elemental dramatic concept of “boy-meets-girl” is spun into what seems to be an infinity of alternative scenarios, or what-might-have-been alternatives.
The play applies the principles of string theory, relativity and quantum mechanics. The main protagonists are Roland (played by Logan) — a beekeeper — and Marianne (played by Courtney), a Cambridge University academic specializing in “theoretical early universe cosmology.”
As over-one’s-head as that all might sound, the performance translates into a very simplistic yet deeply emotional portrayal of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, personifying the idea that events that occur at the same time for one observer could occur at different times for another.
While rehearsing, director Marcia Douglas invited Dr. Neil Comins, who has a doctorate in astrophysics, to visit rehearsals and help share insights with the cast and crew into the science and physics. “‘Constellations’ explores the lives of two people who, starting in our universe, follow different roads in many different universes,” Comins said. “Subtle as the leaps from universe to universe may appear, their consequences are truly profound for the lives of these two people.”
By conventional standards, the play has only 4 or 5 proper scenes. However, each of the vignettes — beginning with Roland and Marianne’s meeting at a barbeque — is re-performed, exemplifying different emotions within the scenario in each replay. “It’s a lot of emotional journey you can go on in a play, the most possible,” said Logan.
While neither of the actors had seen the play performed prior to the start of rehearsal, Logan had came across the play while browsing scripts online and was immediately interested. When he heard director Marcia Douglas announce that she would be presenting it this fall, he knew it was something he had to be a part of.
“It’s not traditional, it’s very postmodern,” Courtney, who described how “Constellations” was very different than any other production she had been a part of in the past, said. “It doesn’t follow a typical thru line and there are no strict stage directions.” This post-modern construction allows the actors to feel artistically liberated, allowing them to take their own interpretation of the emotions being portrayed and run with it.
“Constellations” is the first performance by the School of Performing Arts (SPA) presented at the Emera Astronomy Center. An anonymous donation enabled the university to build the center, which was completed in 2014. The addition of the astronomy center as a backdrop to the performance creates an entirely new experience for the audience, as they simultaneously travel through space and time with the performers both emotionally and visually.
Seventy minutes of raw, interrupted emotion, “Constellations” provides a string of variations to a thematic scenario in which all in the audience can relate. Logan and Courtney put on a stunning performance, which leaves the audience reflecting into their own metaphysical relationship with the universe.