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Review: CONSTELLATIONS is an Exhilarating Gift For the Mind and Senses

CONSTELLATIONS is a British drama by playwright, Nick Payne and is presented in Austin by Street Corner Arts. Originally premiering in 2012, the play is an exploration of love, fate, and quantum physics. After mesmerizing audiences and receiving rave reviews from London critics, it went on to win the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play. In 2015, CONSTELLATIONS transferred to Broadway with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson in the starring roles and played 76 performances.

A linear description of the production is nearly impossible, but the fixed points remain the same. Marianne (Stephanie Carll) and Roland (Ryan Hamilton) are on a continuous intersecting loop. They meet by chance, fall in love, and get engaged. Or perhaps the meeting goes awry, or one cheats, and they break up only to reconcile later. The scenes of their relationship play out and are revisited again and again. The theory is that every choice a person has ever or never made exists a vast, time-bending group of parallel universes. What the audience is seeing is every possible decision Marianne and Roland could or could not make. As the story progresses, it is revealed that the couple is facing the worst news a person can get and an impossibly cruel fate. What's more cruel is that even though the choices in each universe may be different, they rarely affect the original outcome.

A story of this calibre and intensity must be handled with the utmost care. The additional challenge of giving this responsibility to only two characters raises the stakes beyond what is typically asked of an actor. Stephanie Carll and Ryan Hamilton masterfully inhabit their roles as Marianne and Roland. They display searing focus and the ability to stay in the moment as they gracefully switch from one reality to the next. The pair's natural ease and chemistry make the events of the production feel less like a performance and more like a series of open, honest conversations. Carll radiates warmth from the stage and finds genuine moments of humour in the most unexpected places in her character's sobering journey. Hamilton is able to give more honest responses in one sentence of dialogue than most actors can give in an entire performance. Watching him deliver the same sentence several times over, each time under different circumstances makes his portrayal all the more impressive and heartbreaking.

Director, Liz Fisher has wisely staged this piece as the intimate work imagined by the playwright. Hyde Park Theatre works well for the play's close, personal nature. With a minimalistic set consisting of a few chairs and stunning lighting design by Patrick Anthony, the audience is completely enveloped in the world of these characters. When the location, time, or reality changes, audience members are implored to imagine the surroundings. With little distraction, except for the occasional light fixture shifting into place, every moment of the 80-minute production is an engrossing accomplishment.

CONSTELLATIONS is an exhilarating gift for the mind and senses. Street Corner Arts has created a master class in not only acting and directing, but producing a well-rounded piece of theatre that deserves every ounce of praise it is likely to receive. This brief but touching story should be added to every theatre lover's must-see list.

CONSTELLATIONS is currently running at Hyde Park Theatre (511 W 43rd St, Austin, TX 78751) Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm until December 17th.

Running Time: Approx. 80 minutes with no intermission.

Tickets prices: $15-18, available ONLINE

For more info, visit Street Corner Art's website.

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