Back in my college days when, after the ingestion of a substantial quantity of adult beverages, the conversation topic amongst my friends inevitably steered to the meaning of life, my standard contribution was that life had no meaning, it was simply the sum of the choices we make. I then proceeded to a) throw up, b) pass out, or c) grab another beverage. See? Choices.
Who hasn’t put themselves in the position to wonder “What if?” or played the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game when it comes to the choices we’ve made in life. Well, British playwright Nick Payne plays that game theatrically with his characters in his 2012 play Constellations, which is running in its North Bay premiere engagement at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse.
It’s a two-character piece that follows the relationship of quantum physicist Marianne (Melissa Claire) and bee-keeper Roland (Jared Wright) from their first meet through a multitude of life situations. Each situation lasts but a few minutes and is presented multiple times, with slight or major derivations each time. Marianne may confess infidelity, then Roland may be the guilty party. Roland may forgive her. Or not. He may be compassionate. Or violent. They may speak to each other in British accents. Or American Sign Language (a fascinating scene.) Their relationship may endure. Or not.
It’s an interesting exercise but hardly original (see the film Sliding Doors, for example). It takes off from the concept of mulit-verses, which would take substantial research and writing time to explain fully, but I refuse to spend more time writing this review than it took to watch this production, which clocked in at the recent performance I attended at a very brisk 63 minutes. For a pretty good primer on the subject, check out the episode of Family Guy that covers the material.
What the show is more than anything is an exercise in acting and a challenge for its artists, and director Juliet Noonan and actors Claire and Wright meet the challenge. Performed in the round in 6th Street’s Studio theatre, what could easily bore an audience with its repetitive nature holds the audience from beginning to end, though the short running time is also key. I’m not sure I could sit through two hours of a show structured like this.
Claire’s and Wright’s ability to play the scenes with different shadings and maintain the characters’ credibility is a tribute to their talent. Scenes take emotional leaps that would throw many actors, but with a simple light or sound cue the transformation is almost immediate. Director Noonan keeps her cast in almost perpetual motion over an eye-catching, well-lit, yet simple set that evokes the vastness of time and space. With each shift in movement and placement comes a different version of the story.
I’m not sure what the big picture is here, or if there’s even a big picture to be found. One could go mad contemplating the infinite possibilities in life. Or one could go see this show.
Presented by 6th Street Playhouse
through September 24
Thurs/Fri/Sat @ 7:30pm, Sat & Sun @ 2pm
6th Street Playhouse
52 W 6th St
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Photos by Eric Chazankin