Constellations is a 70-minute thought provoking imaging by 28 year-old British playwright Nick Payne. The way the work is staged relays a suspended vignette, a dream-like haze of floating white balloons punctuated by abrupt, almost startling endings to each interaction. First, we meet Roland (Jake Gyllenhaal) a beekeeper and Marianne (Ruth Wilson) who recently finished filming the first season of ‘The Affair’ on Showtime, a quantum physicist. The play follows them through their first interaction, flirtations, break-up and/or marriage, terminal illness and/or remission and imminent death and/or continued life. Payne shows us several different ways you can tell one story and how each will result in a different reaction and outcome. Stressing the importance of not just what we say and think, but how we communicate these thoughts to others that can make all the difference.
Just like the multiverse theory the play will never be acted exactly the same. When pulled off as flawlessly as Gyllenhaal and Wilson, it is both interesting and perplexing—only if you are willing to jump down the rabbit hole that is. The play focuses on the idea that every choice and nuance in how we think, act, and react will change our environment and how others think, act and react back to us and others. This then creates (creating) a universe filled with a variety of different outcomes, an infinite realm of paraell realities that are all similar but not the same. The choices and actions that we take determine which paths we will and will not experience.
The play is meant to stir the mind and that is exactly what it did. So often we do not take the way we treat others and the decisions we make, both big and small, seriously enough. We believe that somehow it will all work out and do not think about the ramifications to the situations and people that will be affected and altered by our decisions— never allowing us to backpedal—because once you’ve chosen a certain path everything else around you changes with that decision. This is a notion that Payne believes both on and off the stage as he has been quoted saying that climate change is simply not an issue to people. The reason being no one cares about the consequences of doing something harmful today that the result of which will not be felt for another 50 years.
My favorite scene and dialogue of the play happens when Roland is attempting to propose to Marianne, this happens in four or five variations, only one way resulting in a “Yes” from Marianne. Gyllenhaal’s acting skills were nothing less than impressive and insightful. He recites to Marianne some thoughtful yet very simple words he wrote down about the three different types of bees: The queen bee, worker bee, and drone bee and how each have a very distinct purpose. Roland envies the worker bees because they live a very short life, yet for the entire time they are alive they know exactly what they are supposed to do, they have an innate purpose, something he feels because of his love for Marianne.
Writing this play, for Payne, was a therapeutic exercise—as most artistic creations tend to be— after losing his father, his imagining of a multiverse was able to make him believe that somewhere, somehow, him and his father are still together in an alternate reality—both reassuring and tragic, because Payne is stuck in this reality, where his father no longer exists.