Constellations

September 11, 2017

in Plays

Play (2012)
by Nick Payne

Directed by Scott Edmiston

A Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Production
Underground Railway Theatre
Central Square Theater
September 7 – October 8, 2017

With Marianna Bassham (Marianne), Nael Nacer (Roland)

Marianna Bassham as Marianne, Nael Nacer as Roland in 'Constellations'

Marianna Bassham as Marianne
Nael Nacer as Roland
in “Constellations”
Photo: A. R. Sinclair Photography
Courtesy of Central Square Theater

A play about the cosmic possibility of multiple outcomes, featuring a romance between a cosmologist and a beekeeper, brought to life by two of Boston’s most compelling actors.

Marianne (Marianna Bassham), a Cambridge (England) University cosmologist, and Roland (Nael Nacer), a beekeeper and honey-maker, navigate around one another and eventually come into contact in the series of improvisations on reality that constitute the heart and soul of this stimulating reflection on possibility and encounter. The image of the multiverse as that which encapsulates any number of parallel and different narratives governs the poetry of these interchanges. Coming to one another time and again in the same situations, Marianna and Roland slide off each another, bounce in opposite directions, inspire and crush one another, and eventually, through the grace of possibility, learn something about engagement.

This play’s technique is revision and revisitation, delivering a Cubist sensibility.

Despite its brevity (about 75 minutes without intermission), this play provides a full array of narrative elements and spans the content of a relationship in its own Cubist terms. Its technique is revision and revisitation, crafting variation on each preceding scene every so slightly as to shape the entire encounter differently. The result is a sense of the vastness of, and one’s potential lostness in, the expanding and endlessly repeating universe, and the graciousness and art by which, on occasion, random selves can actually learn to dance to the music of the spheres.

Despite one’s potential lostness in the expanding and endlessly repeating universe, the play exhibits the possibility that random selves can actually learn to dance to the music of the spheres.

The play delivers a familiar observation about indeterminism and possibility, but in a sweetly improvisational way, without too much intellectual headgear. Instead, the offering of the mere presence of the cosmologist, with a few passing references to her work, is enough to set the tone. In general, the theme is one that has been treated enough in other dramatic and narrative contexts that it alone is not the most refreshing thing about the play. One example is David Ives’ short comic play Sure Thing (1988) which uses a somewhat similar technique of revisiting the same potentially romantic encounter between a man and woman in sequence with each element ending with a bell when there is a screw-up. Its orientation is not quite as cosmically dramatic as that of Constellations but the notion of revisiting a potential romantic encounter over and over again is the same.

This production highlights the capacities of two of Boston’s very best actors.

What makes this production outstanding is that it highlights the capabilities of two of Boston’s very best actors in its starring roles.

Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer are actors of incredible range and subtlety.

Both Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer are actors of incredible range and subtlety. They are absolutely amazing in their capacities to undertake here the same material and shape it over and over with variations of texture, voice, temper, mood, and work each in a way that gives a compelling sense of the uncertain but penetrating relationship between their two characters. Together they exhibit a wonderfully subtle comic sensibility while also delivering the drama of their roles majestic profundity. Each is a superb actor, but together they offer powerhouse of talent. Even if they were just reading a cookbook, it would be entirely worth the price of admission just to see them do their thing together. This play offers an interesting take on an old recipe but it cooks because of the two of them.

Bassham and Nacer take the same material and shape it over and over with variations of texture, voice, temper, mood in a way that gives a compelling sense of the uncertain but penetrating relationship between their two characters.

Director Scott Edmiston has obviously diredcted these two wonderful actors with deftness, and provided the context and guiding shape to allow their talents to reign free. Each scene is distinctly and artfully conceived. Though the narrative is intentionally fragmentary, the play gains, through Edmiston’s supervision and Bassham’s and Nacer’s realization, a coherent emotional potency.

The set has a mirror above which helps to corroborate the notion of multiplicity, and a lot of suspended lights in the background represent stars flashing indications of random alteration. Those add some visual fireworks to the goings on, but the real fireworks lie in the performances of two stellar actors who bring these characters, and this relationship, to life.

Nael Nacer as Roland, Marianna Bassham as Marianne in 'Constellations'

Nael Nacer as Roland
Marianna Bassham as Marianne
in “Constellations”
Photo: A. R. Sinclair Photography
Courtesy of Central Square Theater

– BADMan

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