Review: ‘Constellations’ we can’t even imagine

Jered McLenigan and Sarah Gliko in the Wilma Theater production of 'Constellations.'(Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

Jered McLenigan and Sarah Gliko in the Wilma Theater production of 'Constellations.'(Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

You know how they say the future is in the stars? In Nick Payne’s surreal and beautifully constructed “Constellations,” it really is. First produced in London, then two years ago on Broadway, the quirky story of two people who meet at a barbecue and enter cautiously into a relationship is unfolding at Wilma Theater, where the two actors playing the roles shine.

They are Jered McLenigan, who portrays a beekeeper and honey bottler, and Sarah Gliko, as a quantum-mechanics physicist who analyses data. “We’re just particles governed by a series of very particular laws,” she explains – then speculates that human attempts to control our destinies are against the laws of science, laws that control us.

Take that idea further, and you head into the notion of parallel universes, or other universes where particles are governed by their own particular laws. On them, the same destinies we try to control on Earth may be playing out in wholly different ways.

“Constellations” is not a science class. It’s a play – a fascinating one — governed by those theories. It’s 70 minutes of curious storytelling that brings us into what theoretical physicists call the multiverse – a world more expansive than the one we generally understand. The play is delivered in snatches of dialogue being performed over and over with new interpretations, tones and permutations.

We can assume these different versions of the same short scenes come from the changing perspectives of the play’s two characters, who may be on different universes at different times. Or we can simply see the characters as playing out what might have been.

“Constellations” comes down to earth as its random scenes begin to coalesce — the choices the characters must make are very much their own, scientific theory aside and with no guarantee about their destinies. Marianne, the scientist who studies the intricacies of particles, needs to rely on the intricacies of her own intellect to sort out her life. I’m being circumspect, because “Constellations” turns out to be much richer than it seems in the beginning, and I’m not about to give any of it away.

It’s a smart play that demands an equally sharp production. Tea Alagić directs this version with a clear vision that gradually (but surely) lets us in on the show’s unusual conceits – from scene to scene, we travel the universes along with McLenigan and Gliko. The two of them, married in real life, are wholly in the moment – which means instantly changing the moment with every ping of Elizabeth Atkinson’s sound design and flash of Masha Tsimring’s lighting that sweeps over an arc of … what? A ring around a universe? An interstellar road? You have to wonder, if “Constellations” is playing elsewhere – I mean, Far-Out Elsewhere – are the choices the characters make different and what exactly are the consequences?

“Constellations” runs through Feb. 5 at Wilma Theater, at Broad and Spruce Streets. 215-546-7824 or www.wilmatheater.org.

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