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Thursday, January 24 , 2019, 3:34 am | Fair 42º


Gerald Carpenter: Theater Center Maps ‘Constellations’ on Main Stage

June 22 through July 29, on its Main Stage, the Santa Paula Theater Center will present its new production of British playwright Nick Payne’s multiversal comedy, Constellations (2012), directed by the Theater Center's artistic director David Ralphe, produced by Leslie Nichols, with sets by Mike Carnahan, lighting by Gary Richardson, costumes by Barb Pedziwiatr-costumes.

Jessi May Stevenson and Ron Feltner star.

Constellations is a romantic duologue for beekeeper and astrophysicist.

The premise is a tricky one, based on the hypothesis of the "multiverse," but rather than lose myself in attempts at explanation — attempts that would surely leave me and my readers dizzy, confused, and gasping for air — let us just say it boils down to the infinitely proliferating consequences of each individual choice, after which not just you but the entire universe in which your consciousness is imbedded, heads off in a particular direction, without — and this is crucial to understanding the play — canceling out other possible consequences of a different choice made at the same instant. Or something like that.

The Theater Center puts it this way:

"This spellbinding, romantic journey begins with a simple encounter between a man and a woman. (Roland is a beekeeper; Marianne is a quantum physicist.) But what happens next defies the boundaries of the world we think we know as we embark on a fantastical journey to parallel worlds where Marianne, a physicist, and Roland, a beekeeper, fall in love, over and over again, in a multitude of ways.

"Every choice they make has a different, life-altering outcome. Constellations is a charming, and sometimes devastating and profound, exploration of the universal truth of finding and losing love."
Or, as Maddy Costa of The Guardian (UK) put it, when she interviewed Nick Payne on the occasion of Constellations transferring to a theater in London's West End (i.e., hitting the big time):

"Somewhere out there, in a panoply of parallel universes, Nick Payne isn't sitting in a London cafe talking to the Guardian about his plays, because he hasn't written any. Instead, he followed a childhood ambition to be an artist, and another teenage desire to work as a chef.
"If the idea seems far-fetched, consider the subject of Payne's play Constellations, a hit at the Royal Court earlier this year and now transferring to the West End. It was inspired by a TV documentary presented by Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe, which discussed the idea of the multiverse — the theory that our universe is merely one of many.

"Constellations illustrates the concept by presenting several permutations of a single relationship: in some, the couple ... live happily together, in others, they don't even make it to a first kiss."
Of course, it is not his grasp of fancy ideas that makes Nick Payne a hot playwright, but his ability to create plausible, sympathetic characters and to write sparkling, compelling dialogue.

Something of the quality and atmosphere of Payne's plays may be understood from considering that when his first full-length play, If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet (2009), came to New York, it starred Jake Gyllenhaal, in his New York stage debut, and that when Constellations came to the Big Apple, it starred Gyllenhaal in his Broadway debut.

In America, at least, Gyllenhaal and Payne seem to have established the same symbiotic actor-writer relationship that Alan Bates used to have with Simon Gray (Butley, Otherwise Engaged). It's one way of looking at it; one possible way out of millions.

Performances of Constellations are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125. S. 7th St., in downtown Santa Paula.

Tickets are $24 for adults, $22 for seniors and students. Reservations may be made by calling the box office, 805-525-4645, or by going on line to www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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