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constellations.3 Photos by Igor Dmitry

What if…?

Boy meets girl. Or, in the case of Constellations, now and briefly at The Studio Theatre in Washington, DC, girl meets boy.

She’s a theoretical physicist at a university. He’s a beekeeper. They’re both kind of nerdy and awkward. You can immediately identify with them. In many important ways, they are like all of us.

For the next 70 minutes after they first meet (and we first meet them), they explore, through repeated scenes, the different possibilities for how their relationship might have developed. As the scenes are played over and over again the audience begins to understand how the subtleties of a smile, a nod, a frown, or laughter at the right time (or wrong time) has enormous impact.  It may sound complicated, but it’s not.

And it is riveting.

There is some discussion about string theory, relativity, quantum mechanics, but it’s not really necessary to understand any of that. In fact, the play and its 50 scenes are easy to follow. The couple first meet randomly at a BBQ party, and we follow them through a number of years, exploring at every decisive moment how their lives might have played out had they chosen to act differently.

constellations.1The actors — Lily Balatincz (Marianne) and Tom Patterson (Roland) — are terrific.  Subtle, expressive, complementary, and in full control of the wonderful script, written by Nick Payne and directed by David Muse. Balatincz and Patterson carry off the scene replays brilliantly. Though dissimilar in some ways (she’s more lively; he’s more guarded), they are well matched as actor and actress. They are both likable, and we quickly become involved with them and cheer for them, even as we learn of their imperfections.

The staging is also brilliant. This two person drama takes place in a black box setting built for this production. Marianne and Roland interact in a small, empty space not much larger than a backyard trampoline. The audience sits on benches totally surrounding the stage and is close enough to see and be ‘in touch’ with every facial gesture, with every nuance these two well matched actors manage to explore.

Constellations, initially and very successfully produced in London and then New York, is only at The Studio Theater until March 27th. It has already been extended beyond its original run. Hopefully, it will be extended further.

Don’t we all wonder how life might have turned out differently for us depending on sometimes very small matters or on how we chose to react to a given situation? That’s what this play forces the audience to examine.

It’s wonderful theater.