Hoping That the Next Leap Will Be Their Leap Home: “Constellations”

Nael Nacer & Marianna Bassham in CONSTELLATIONS. Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography

Presented by Underground Railway Theater
Written by Nick Payne
Directed by Scott Edmiston

Sept. 7 – Oct. 8, 2017
Central Square Theater
Cambridge, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Cambridge, MA) The ancient Greek believed that bees were the messengers of the Gods. Bees could divine the future, and acted as emissaries to Olympus. Keeping bees was and still is a sensitive vocation. It requires a gentle hand and a hardy constitution. Human beings require bees to live, but not vice versa.

Just as the Greeks perceived divinity through bees, Man has used science to perceive infinity. Constellations imagines the different realities in which Marianne (Marianna Bassham) and Roland (Nael Nacer) potentially do and do not meet, fall in love, fall out of love, cheat, stay loyal and the repercussions of their decisions to do any of it. In between romantic episodes, we learn about apiculture and the futility of attempting to control anything in this life.

The lighting (Jeff Adelberg) and set (Susan Zeeman Rogers) designs glimmer together like stars in the night sky. Their twinkles intimate a physical similarity between buzzing bees and the cosmos.

This production utilizes a shiny, black stage to reveal the thematic priorities of this production. All focus is on our heros. The space, dark and bare like uncharted space, is then able to absorb the actions of the play.  

Artists interested in acting technique should attend in order to study the work Bassam and Nacer. They are as ever changing chameleons in a garden of prismatic scene work. We are given fresh character perspectives at the drop of a dime, and their communication with the audience is deeply intuitive. Nacer and Bassam trust each other to take great emotional risks with the roles. Their reward is a rollercoaster of sincerely performed, believable production. Our belief is as suspended as our breath.  

Payne demonstrates the potential for alternate realities through the practice of line and scene repetition. Even in reading the script, confusion is inevitable. Bassam and Nacer delineate between vignette permutations through efficient physical cues. They think the change and we see it (the less impressionable are assisted by lighting and sound cues). They are aided almost invisibly by the cunning work of sound designer Dewey Dellay.

Not all of the production is serious drama. There’s attempted elbow licking and an adorkable, not-sexy-to-us-but-sexy-to-the-characters makeout scene. Those of us turned on by intellectual stimulation will understand the inclusion of such strange mating rituals. Others should patiently wait without kink shaming.   

Proving that relationship turbulence is universal, a short scene is performed in BSL (British Sign Language, I’m told by my evening’s companion who speaks a bit of each). Bassham and Nacer perform it well but the credit belongs to consultant Sabrina Dennison. One doesn’t have to know Sign Language to understand that certain procurers of balloons will be throttled for their procurement.   

As to the science of Constellations, one should remember that art is a metaphor. Nick Payne is not a theoretical physicist. His interpretation of physics should be interpreted by his audience with proverbial grains of salt. Constellations should be experienced similarly as that famous quote by Aaron Freeman, the one about inviting a physicist to speak at a funeral: as comforting poetry and not literal explanation. There’s a lot of physics to know, so much that even the professionals occasionally get it wrong. But that doesn’t make the play any less beautiful. It makes it more so because mistakes make us human. There’s so little we can control. It’s best to enjoy what we can while we can.

Constellations is a bit like Philip Glass Buys A Loaf of Bread in that the humor is sophisticated but the drama is relatable. Repetition reigns but that’s where the comparisons end. This production struggles with some difficult, eternal questions. It could leave the viewer depressed… or obsessed with a new hobby. Bees and physics are better answers to an impossible question than hopelessness.

A certain quote that got pushed around the internet.

Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

TCG has a list of things you can do to help.




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