When actor Jen Chidekel and her cast mates take the stage in City Repertory Theatre’s production of “Constellations,” which runs Thursday July 28 through Sunday July 31 at the troupe’s Palm Coast venue, they’ll be facing an acting dilemma of cosmic proportions.
“Some of the universes are almost identical except for a handful of lines, and then you have to remember which universe you’re in – ‘Who am I in this universe?’ ” Chidekel says.
No, “Constellations” isn’t some spinoff of Marvel Comics’ “Multiverse,” that cinematic franchise packed with superheroes and supervillians. Rather, the play is a 2012 comedy-drama by British playwright Nick Payne about the romantic ups and downs of a beekeeper and a theoretical physicist.
Yet, akin to Thor and Doctor Strange, the couple in “Constellations” take a trip down the rabbit hole of the multiverse, that freaky theory that posits there are an infinite number of parallel universes which exist simultaneously, and may be quite similar to or radically different from the one you and I inhabit. Some theorists even say these multiple universes occasionally intersect, giving rise to all sorts of high weirdness such as ghosts, UFOs and Bigfoot (or such atrocities as John Updike’s Toward the End of Time, where the late novelist attempted his own multiverses of sexual obsessions, wearying adulteries and misogyny).
So, in one parallel universe, you – the reader of this story – decided to open FlaglerLive on your laptop and see what hip entertainment is happening in the Palm Coast area. In another parallel universe, “you” succumbed to your whim to fly to New Mexico and chase roadrunners. In still another universe, “you” live on Planet Bigfoot and you’re the mythic boogeyman who frightens little sasquatch children in the woods – even if you the reader of FlaglerLive don’t realize it.
The idea of parallel universes has been around since the ancient Greeks, but the theory received a big boost in 1952 when quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger said that damn cat in his theoretical box is alive and dead at the same time. (Or when Scientific American in May 2003 called parallel universes “not just a staple of science fiction” and again in July 2011 called them “a solid scientific idea.”)
So yes, the “Constellations” couple hopscotch through the multiverse. But, unlike Marvel’s Doctor Strange and the denizens of other sci-fi tales, the lovers’ parallel universes aren’t littered with supervillains, demons or Bigfoot.
“The circumstances (in the play) are not extraordinary,” says Chidekel, who portrays Marianne. “Aliens are not coming in. We’re not breaking out into song and dance. There’s no crazy stuff going on. One moment I’m crying my eyes out because I’m gonna die, and then the next moment I’m getting engaged and then the next moment we’re having a fight because he cheated on me, and then the next moment I cheated on him. The circumstances are ordinary but the way that they’re portrayed is extraordinary. As an actor, it’s fascinating to get to do all of these things all in one place.”
The City Rep production does introduce one real-life, multiverse quantum quirk: Director Beau Wade, a CRT veteran both onstage and behind the scenes, decided to double cast the two-person play. Wait, there’s more: Wade decided to amp up the multiverse weirdness by switching the gender of the roles. (Check with your lawyer before bringing your younger children, if they attend Flagler County schools.)
The result: The play’s four-show run will feature Phillipa Rose as Rowan the beekeeper and Austin Kelley as Marion the nerdy physicist in the Thursday and Saturday performances. Kelvin Niebla portrays Roland the beekeeper and Chidekel is Marianne the physicist (as per Payne’s original play) in the Friday and Sunday performances.
On a 1-to-10 scale of unconventional, even freaky love stories, Wade rates “Constellations” as “simultaneously a one and a 10. All the circumstances they go through are things that everyone who’s been in a relationship will go through. It’s just that in most plays, movies, literature you don’t get to see all of that happen in the same night. You usually experience one universe of two people’s lives. In this one you’re going to see dozens.”
After “Constellations” made its Broadway debut in 2015, New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley said it “may be the most sophisticated date play Broadway has seen.”
“It’s definitely an unconventional approach to something that everyone can understand,” Kelley says. “I’d say it definitely takes a little extra brainpower to process. At the same time, I wouldn’t call this avant-garde. I wouldn’t call it obscure. The plot itself is very minimalistic. It’s a love story, so it’s very understandable and approachable. It’s just viewed through this fascinating lens.”
Indeed, as the play romps through its vignettes, Niebla wonders if audience members may think of the actors: “ ‘They’re forgetting their lines and starting over and over again!’ ”
However, the City Rep cast is confident theatergoers won’t get lost in the multiverse, especially since Payne the playwright hedges his bets by having Marianne/Marion the physicist muse upon the concept of parallel universes.
All four members of the City Rep cast agree that “Constellations” has spurred them to contemplate the vagaries of fate, the whims of kismet, the caress of destiny – the ways one’s life may turn on a dime due to something said or left unsaid, or by taking the lefthand path rather than the right, or by glimpsing the smile of a stranger at a party or grocery checkout and, in the next blink of the universe’s eye, you look back at that moment and realize that was when you found your soulmate.
“This play makes you appreciate the current moment because you’re more aware of the infinite number of possibilities that could be occurring just because of what you’re doing right now,” Kelley says. “That’s fascinating to me.”
As Rose says, “Sometimes it’s as simple as an addition of a line, or a word that’s gone from a line, that changes the universe.”
–Rick de Yampert for FlaglerLive
“Constellation,” at City Repertory Theatre, directed by Beau Wade, at 7:30 p.m. July 28-30 and 3 p.m. July 31. Performances will be in CRT’s black box theater at City Marketplace, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Tickets are $20 adults and $15 students, available at crtpalmcoast.com, by calling 386-585-9415, or at the venue just before showtime.