BWW Review: CONSTELLATIONS at Centaur Theatre

Every choice you make has the potential for a different, life-altering outcome.

This is the main tenet that drives Constellations, a mixed-up, energetic two-hander that races forward at top speed while the audience follows behind, collecting bread crumbs along the way.

Marianne, a physicist, meets Roland, a beekeeper, and they fall in love. Or they don't. Or they find love and lose it. But sometimes they find it again.

The play switches at lightning speed between an expanse of parallel worlds, where timing, romance, and happenstance fluctuate infinitely. The play is an innovative take on the boy-meets-girl romance as it keeps the audience disoriented and grasping at linear straws from the get-go.

Playwright Nick Payne asks not only for the interest of his audience, but for an added level of engagement wherein one must actually pay attention as the plot whizzes by. This departure from the form makes for an astonishingly immersive experience, with the play running a seamless 85 minutes without intermission.

It's well-positioned as the Centaur Theatre's season opener, with a strong pairing of lead actors Cara Ricketts and Graham Cuthbertson and a wandering, unburdened script that asks more questions than it answers.

Ricketts plays Marianne, a likable and grounded woman who enthuses at length about her research interests in a way that doesn't feel like laboured exposition. Ricketts becomes a storyteller, and in her monologues, she expounds on the mysteries of the universe with authority and passion.

Cuthbertson's Roland could be written off as a more 'low-key' or subdued character, but in actuality, he provides a much needed balance to Marianne's high spirits. Cuthbertson really shines when his character tries, in rapid-fire succession over half a dozen different universes, to propose to his girlfriend. While the words of his speech remain the same, Cuthbertson manages to imbue them with varying layers of meaning as they are repeated over and over in a sequence that feels more like poetry than prose.

The production, which premiered in London's West End in 2012 and later on Broadway in 2015, is staged simply and elegantly. The English Canadian premiere is a co-production with The Canadian Stage Company in Toronto.

The set design by Michael Gianfrancesco features a large revolving sphere that allows characters, and at times objects, to circulate in orbit of one another.

Directed by Peter Hinton, the production is dressed-down and vulnerable, allowing the performances to stand on their own merit.

The action is accompanied by a lone cello, performed beautifully by Jane Chan, which helps to distance the play from the veneer of realism it represents.

Constellations is playing at the Centaur Theatre until Oct. 30 with student tickets starting at $28 and adult tickets going for $51.

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From This Author Marilla Steuter-Martin