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'Constellations' shines bright

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Amelia Raphaela Courtney and John Dalton Logan in the UMaine School of Performing Arts' production of "Constellations." Amelia Raphaela Courtney and John Dalton Logan in the UMaine School of Performing Arts' production of "Constellations." (Photo courtesy of UMaine SPA)

Collaborative UMaine production engaging, thought-provoking

ORONO Every action we take, every decision we make, everything that we do or do not do it all impacts the future that follows.

That's the basic notion behind 'Constellations,' a play by Nick Payne. The show recently received a production through the University of Maine's School of Performing Arts, directed by Marcia Joy Douglas. The piece was the result of a collaborative effort between SPA and the Emera Astronomy Center, along with design participation from UMaine's Intermedia Program and the IMRC.

It's a story about two people a beekeeper and a scientist that traces and retraces the paths that their relationship follows, exploring how the decisions we make influence the direction our lives take. Not only do the things we say influence our journey, but the way that we say them. Through repetition and changes in tone and intent (some subtle, others not so much), 'Constellations' follows this pair through a multitude of potentialities.

When Roland (John Dalton Logan) and Marianne (Amelia Raphaela Courtney) first encounter one another, it feels much like any other meet-cute. But it soon becomes clear that this meeting is far from ordinary.

Their relationship plays out in fits and starts, with first one and then the other making different choices and adopting different attitudes that change the immediate outcome; oftentimes, the very same dialogue takes on drastically different meaning when there's a shift in the intent behind it. We watch the relationship play out in a variety of different ways, all branching out from the same basic beginnings.

The dynamic between Roland and Marianne is in a constant state of flux a quantum relationship, one whose very nature can be altered with one small embrace or harsh utterance. Some paths are happy, others are sad; some are joyful and others are downright tragic. All of it, the good and the bad, coming down to the choices being made by the two people at the center of this relationship spread wide across the multiverse.

Other stage works have toyed with that notion of backing up and moving forward, though it is far more often a comedic device the comparison that leaps immediately to mind is the short play 'Sure Thing' by David Ives. That said, the comparison is largely a superficial one. Not to denigrate a fine work from Mr. Ives, but 'Constellations' is a much more thoughtful and emotionally driven piece, taking the idea to some complex and unexpected places.

This production is the result of the best kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration. The subject matter space, time, quantum mechanics made the show a natural fit for the Emera Astronomy Center; the production takes place in the Center's planetarium. Not only does the intimacy and simplicity of the space mesh well with the source material, but New Media/Intermedia instructor Gene Felice has provided some vivid and enthralling images that were projected onto the ceiling of the space images that address the play's thematic elements on both a macro and micro level. Toss in the services of a guest astrophysicist (Neil Comins) and an assistant director with a philosophy background (Aaron Bennett Morrison) and you've got quite an interesting collective.

Marcia Douglas has long since shown an ability to pull performances from her young actors that largely transcend age. She has an instinctive grasp of the minute details that make relationships tick; since this show's success rests almost entirely on exploring and expanding those minute details, it's a phenomenal director-script match.

But while the production values of 'Constellations' are generally pretty fantastic lighting designer Dan Bilodeau works around the space's limitations nicely; sound co-designers Alan Liam Estes and Nathan Reeves make some inspired choices there's no disputing that with a two-hander like this, the show's ultimate effectiveness rests heavily on the shoulders of the two actors.

And they are more than up to the task.

Logan's performance is a tour de force. He makes bold and perfectly contradictory choices throughout, executing 180-degree turns with an easy flair. Whether he's the sappy romantic, the hardened cynic or somewhere in-between, he digs in and finds the nuances subtle and otherwise necessary to justify the drastic leaps from scene to scene. He switches effortlessly from hero to villain and back on a dime; it's really quite impressive to watch.

Courtney's performance might not be as flashy as Logan's, but it's no less effective. Her shifts tend to be quieter; it's difficult to say if that quietness is an actor's choice, a directorial choice or a necessity of the script, but regardless, it's the right call. She shifts from deferential to defiant seamlessly -sometimes with nothing more than a steely glint in her eye. From a timid mouse to the mouse that roared, she too gives a fascinating performance.

'Constellations' is precisely the sort of theatrical work that one hopes to see being done on a college campus. The collaborative nature of the production and the complex ideas of the piece come together to create a powerful and thought-provoking piece of art.

All paths are possible, though we can follow but one.

Last modified on Sunday, 04 December 2016 13:43

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