For most people, time seems to move in a straight line, our choices feel (mostly) free and we understand our limitations in terms of circumstance and the choices of others. Constellations, Nick Payne’s drama now playing at Boise Contemporary Theater, takes another view, with human pain matched only by optimism coming from an unexpected direction: multiverse theory.
The story follows the romance between theoretical physicist Marianne (Tiara Thompson) and beekeeper Roland (Dwayne Blackaller), beginning with them noticing each other for the first time and ending with maybe tragedy—”maybe,” because the significant events in Marianne and Roland’s shared history are repeated several times, reflecting different iterations of their relationship within the multiverse.
Their first meeting ranges from awkward to charming, and the challenges they face range from bumps in the road to catastrophes.
Constellations’ approach to nonlinear storytelling means its dramatic tension never flags. Payne’s script abuts joy and sadness, betrayal and camaraderie—and it’s a testament to his skill that the juxtaposition never feels forced or unnatural.
BCT Scenic Designer Dwaine Carver boldly created an all-but barren set featuring only ropes arranged in geometric patterns on the margins of the stage, leaving little about the visual elements of the play to distract from the action. For a narrative set in a multiverse, its tightness is extraordinary and this production’s fidelity to that focus makes it all the more powerful.
Of course, there are stunning performances by Thompson and Blackaller. The play involves sharp transitions between characters experiencing feelings of sexual desire and irritation, elation and isolation, and so whole are Marianne’s complexity and Roland’s earnestness that each incarnation of their relationship is a permutation rather than a reboot. There isn’t a moment when the audience feels left out of the emotional loop.
In a bridge between the play’s last two scenes, Blackaller, walking briskly through the shadows on the stage’s edge, wiped away a tear. For a moment, he stepped through the space between spaces, from a harrowing universe where the full, terrible meaning of “lifetime” is brought to bear on his character’s relationship with Marianne, into a more placid scene in which the characters reconnect.
People brush aside the pain of yesterday so they can face tomorrow. In finitude, they have a gut faith that the future is brighter than the past. Constellations offers a broader optimism than faith: the knowledge that somewhere, even the worst situation turns out alright.