CONSTELLATIONSBy Nick Payne
Millennial Poison Theatre Company
Director/ASL Coach – Lucas Haupert
Stage Manager / Lighting Designer – Alana Henry
Stage Manager / Soundboard Op – Dylan Mobley
Production Assistant / Sound Designer – Juan Zaragoza III
Fight Director – Ian McGee
Roland – Ian McGee
Marianne – Claire Fountain
Roland Understudy – Carson B. Wright
Marianne Understudy – Joan Millburn
Reviewed Performance: 11/22/2019
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Life is normally considered as an arrow. We’re born, we live and we die. How we live is a function of choices we make. This is based on the idea that time flows in one direction, from past to future. It’s so ensconsed in our lives most of us cannot imagine anything else.
Cosmology and quantum mechanics are changing that idea. The idea we live in a universe may not be true. There may be many universes, called the multiverse. Time does not exist as a single series of events, but rather runs in parallel through many universes. Each of us lives with one possible life, but there are other alternative copies of us living different realities. The extreme of this theory is that every possible outcome of every choice is being lived simultaneously in another universe.
This is the underlying concept in Constellations, by Nick Payne, which played at Millennial Poison Theatre Company this weekend.
The story follows the lives of Roland, a beekeeper, and Marianne, a Cosmologist, as they meet, become a couple and experience a life together. However, they experience these choices many times, exploring variations of each choice and outcome. It’s in all those variations that the story creates parallel stories.
Millennial Poison eschewed high-tech production to present the text in its purest form. Lucas Haupert directed Constellations with his small crew of collaborators on a tiny stage in a hotel meeting room. Audience chairs surrouned the stage on three sides, so every seat was within touching distance of actors. Front row patrons nearly rested their feet on the lighting that ringed the stage on the floor with white christmas lights connected to a string of strip-lights that changed colors. Overhead lights consisted of standard dim room lights. The stage was just big enough for two actors and a bit of movement, enough for the story to unfold, even allowing for some dance and combat. Sound through a tiny speaker on the floor, provided enough sound for the small room.
Stage Manager and Lighting Designer, Alana Henry, Stage Manager and Soundboard Operator, Dylan Mobley, Production Assistant and Sound Designer, Juan Zaragoza III, and Fight Director, Ian McGee, showed that a story comes through the text and actors creating characters. Staging enhances the story, but doesn’t create it.
Ian McGee created the many versions of Roland. He’s a beekeeper, perhaps as low-tech and simple as you can get in a modern world. He meets Marianne and then life unfolds the events and decisions in their lives. Each is told and retold, and retold again, each with different character choices and outcomes. The acting challenge was to smoothly transition between variations, often two or three in a few minutes with a single tone signal to switch realities, and do it with enough polarity that we could see differences between variations. McGee acted his character choices well to create entirely different emotional outcomes, different mannerisms and physical manifestations, always subtly changing the meaning of each variation. Roland struggles to understand or even care about the scientific dessertations by Marianne. His limits stop at, “There are three types of bees, workers, drones, and a Queen.” But McGee made Roland respect and appreciate the scientific mind he was in love with through every variation. Through the simple mind set McGee used with every copy of himself, we saw his singular focus on Marianne.
As life unfolded through different parallel versions, Roland becomes more concerned as Marianne finds she’s sufferring from a brain condition. McGee added urgency to each of his variations as this became storyline developed, along with subtle painful reactions to her suffering. In every variation of the multiverse, it seems the loss of the one you love is the same.
Marianne was played by Claire Fountain. Marianne is a young, probably precocious, cosmologist who studies data from astronomical studies, but understands the effects of giant universal structures and the implications of quantum field theories. Fountain had an enormous amount of text, precise terms and language, often spoken quickly and repetively in different characters. Fountain navigated this challenge brilliantly. Each shift to a new version of herself created the same passionate delivery of that science, along with other more emotional worries, and a new set of character choices so that it never appeared repetitive, but rather a new telling of the same story.
I particularly loved the way she navigated Marianne’s degrading brain condition, which affected her ability to deal with words. As an actor, this required intentionally struggling with text in a way we could understand and in a way that seemed natural. This was magnificently done. It created the angst in both her character copies and in Roland’s responses as-well and this made the growing crisis real.
These actors played well with each other. The mirrored responses at times, differed in others, and created a variation with each new universe. It was strong ensemble work. This was especially true during the most powerful sequence of the night, when one variation was played in silence in American Sign Language. For those of us who were not fluent, we may not have known for sure what they were signing, but it seemed they were replaying the previous sequence and, even without knowing that, it showed real people dealing with silent, powerful emotions.
I have a small quibble. At times, I observed action through the back of one actor and could not see the other, so I heard text but did not see actor’s characterizations. This is common challenge in theater-in-the-round, but blocking can place or move actors so that the scene can be seen at least some. I could tell what they were trying to do, but unable to see how they did it. That said, I got the story, like watching a show in another language.
Okay, that quibble came from one of my, more troublesome, variations. I loved this show, the story, production, acting, and direction. I wish Millenial played longer so more people could see it. But I heartily recommend you watch for their next production. It will be interesting.
Constellations is complex, about complicated subjects, but most of all it’s about love, relationship, unexpected consequences, and a triumph of human spirit. For all of us, regardless of the universe we occupy, the story of life is the story of humans living as well as we can and relating to each other peacefully. That’s the universal message and it rings true for all of our many copies.
Follow Millennial Poison Theatre Company as they expand and grow and present exciting new productions.
Millennial Poison Theatre Co
Aloft Dallas Downtown
1033 Young Street
Dallas, Texas 75202
Plays through November 24th.
For information on future shows, call 214.681.3562 or visit www.acebook.com/MillennialPoisonDFW.
Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. EventBrite sells tickets at https://bit.ly/2NhSf7e