By Daniel Skora
Much of what comes to be known as science often begins with the word fiction attached to it. Writers like H.G. Wells and Jules Vern first wrote about space travel (“The First Men in the Moon”), ships that sailed beneath the sea (“20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea”, and discs that talked when spun around (“The Time Machine”). At the time these books were written, all of those things were regarded as fantasy. But fiction has a way of becoming fact, and the July 20th 1969 landing on the moon is history, most every developed country has a submarine or two attached to their naval fleet, and what teenager has not grown up with a pocketful of music carried about in the form of compact discs.
There are always new frontiers of science fiction waiting to become fact. Today, many astral physicists believe that quantum physics now suggests that there may be universes parallel to our own. Because free will allows us to make choices, we may even now exist in those alternate universes living those choices that reflect outcomes different from those that we now find ourselves locked into. Remember that job you turned down after graduating from college? You’re out there in some parallel universe working away at a different career. Or how about that high school sweetheart you let go for another? By now, you’ve probably got grandkids sitting on your lap in some other universe as a result of the union with the girl you left behind.
Outvisible Theatre is presenting “Constellations”, playwright Nick Payne’s little journey into the Twilight Zone of parallel universes. But not to worry. Payne’s parallel universes have nothing to do with physics or higher math or things that go bump in the night. “Constellations” is, instead, a beautiful love story between two people whose relationship is filled with choices.
Marianne (Anna Doyle) is an academic who calls Cambridge her workplace home; Roland (Scott Anthony Joy) is a beekeeper. The two strike up a relationship after meeting at a barbecue. They proceed through a normal boy/girl relationship: living together, contemplating marriage, cheating on each other, and finally confronting tragedy. Along the way, the audience is treated to a steady diet of “What If’s”. A scene can be replayed several times from a different viewpoint resulting in a different outcome. Occasionally, dialogue from one scene is delivered almost verbatim in the next but comes off completely different because of the different inflections and different expressions used by the actors.
An ancillary theme having to do with bees helps define the characters of Marianne and Roland. At one time, Roland tells Marianne about the social makeup of a beehive. There is a queen, drones to inseminate her, and workers to bring home the pollen. Marianne, with her strong personality is clearly the queen. Roland, more compliant and accommodating, is clearly a drone.
So how does one know the play has switched from one reality to another? It’s accomplished in part by a change in tone in the actor’s voice and the microsecond of pause that occurs when it happens. In addition, the lighting (design by Harley Miah) dims briefly every time the scene changes to a parallel universes.
“Constellations” is a perfect little gem of a play. It’s smart, intelligent, a thinking person’s piece of theatre. Playwright Payne has created two characters that are deeply human and the performances of Doyle and Joy, who have great chemistry together, make them so totally likeable that you can’t help but root for their relationship.
Outvisible’s production is no less commendable. Director Adrianne Galea provides movement and clarity to a script that in other hands could easily lapse into confusion. The unadorned raised-platform stage appropriately lets the actors do their thing without interruption. The play clocks in at a brisk 70 minutes, but that’s neither too little nor too much to be able to tell Marianne’s and Roland’s story in a variety of universes.
One of the byproducts of “Constellations” is that the show will give you cause to reflect on some of the “What If’s” in your own life. Self-reflection is always good. And if you haven’t yet been to an Outvisible production, this is the perfect time to take in a show in their cozy little blackbox space. If you should choose to do something else with your time this weekend, just remember this: your other self will undoubtedly be enjoying in some other parallel universe what you’re missing out in this one.
Sign Language Interpreter (yes, there’s an alternate universe which prompts an extremely touching scene between Marianne and Roland), is Thomas Macias. Stage manager for the production is Gerald Hymer occasionally assisted by Jean Pilon. The show runs through December 17th. For tickets, call the theatre’s box office at 1.313.355.8350 or go online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Performances of the Outvisible Theatre take place in the Arts Detroit Building located at 18614 Ecorse Road in Allen Park.