In Nick Payne’s intriguing play Constellations, at the Geffen Playhouse through July 16, a multiverse that allows the existence of every option we choose, or don’t choose, is deftly portrayed by two actors who keep shifting into different realities, showing us possibilities created by their decisions and indecisions.
On a beautifully minimal stage defined by floating light orbs and the occasional piece of furniture– a sofa, chair or bench– we see a couple’s lives unfold from their meeting to their possible last months together. But the trajectory of their story is not linear.
Instead, we see them meet several times in different realities, in some of which he is involved with someone else, and one in which they connect. But all of these realities exist in parallel universes.
We understand that this is what’s happening because Marianne, a quantum physicist (Ginnifer Goodwin), explains the multiverse idea to Roland, a beekeeper (Allen Leech). Through her narration, we learn how string theory bridges two scientific versions of reality but allows for the existence of many potential realities.
Romantic sparks fly amid the science, however. Goodwin as the intelligent, idiosyncratic Marianne is stellar. In an interview she gave during rehearsals, Goodwin describes stalking director Giovanna Sardelli in order to secure the part because she was so enthralled by the play. She certainly brings emotional authenticity and liveliness to her character, on which so much of the poignant impact of the play depends.
And Leech as the kind and caring Roland is a perfect complement. Best known for his role as Tom in the British television series Downton Abbey, Leech follows Goodwin’s lead, reacting to her emotional turns in each scene marking pivotal moments in their relationship, from infidelity to a devastating illness that affects her speech.
Direction by Sardelli is superb. The characters’ transitions through different scenarios are marked by sound effects and lighting shifts, with the hanging orbs illuminated in changing colors or no color at all. We see the characters living different versions of themselves but are never lost or confused. Their compelling story materializes from the fragments of potential stories that exist across universes, and we ultimately feel the effect of decisions made and not made, and the importance of having at least the illusion of choice.
Payne’s writing is precise, emotionally evocative and often very humorous. It’s hard to imagine this intense and inventive story delivered as effectively in a medium other than live theatre. Through this engaging production, we come to realize that in the amount time we have, each choice we make (or don’t make) has the power to change the universe.
Constellations continues at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., L.A., through July 16, with performances Tuesdays through Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are $32-$90. For tickets and information, call the box office at (310) 208-5454 or visit geffenplayhouse.org.