With only two actors, one set, and 80 minutes, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company takes audiences on a roller coaster relationship and also teaches some science with their new production, “Constellations.”
The play centers on Roland, a beekeper played by Jon Michael Hill, and Marianne, a theoretical physicist played by Jessie Fisher, and seven different events in their relationship acted out repeatedly in different ways. At the surface it’s a love story. However, no production at Steppenwolf is ever that simple.
Note: The next paragraph involves science—poorly explained science. Science is good for you, but, like many things that are good for you, it can be hard to swallow. Just stick with it. It’ll go through quick.
The seven different events played out repeatedly provides laughs and gasps but is also trying to do something more. This structure is trying to explain multiverses. (We’re just starting. Don’t stop.) There are two rule books that explain the universe: relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity helps explain the big things in the universe like gravity, planets, and galaxies. Quantum mechanics is focused on everything at the subatomic level. (Half way there. You’re doing great.) The problem is that these two rule books don’t get along because relativity says that there is a local effect to every cause and quantum mechanics says that what happens between subatomic particles doesn’t have a definite effect. Multiverses, the idea that there are an infinite amount of universes playing out every possible scenario, helps smooth over those differences because it allows for both the probabilistic effects of the quantum mechanics and the larger rules of relativity, and because math. (I said I would explain science poorly. I didn’t say anything about math. You did it.)
The science helps to understand where playwright Nick Payne is coming from with these different interpretations of the different scenes, but it’s not necessary to be enthralled in the play. Simply, in the play multiverses is just life through every possible choice at a certain moment. Whenever a new interpretation is going to happen lights flash, and sometimes the words are the same but said differently leading to different outcomes. It makes you think about how often it’s not what you say but how you say things that can affect a relationship. Other times the new scenes make you wonder who you really are. When one multiverse demonstrates a character being violent or another having an affair you start to think what it is you’re actually capable of.
If it sounds confusing don’t worry because Hill and Fisher carry you through the lightning fast play with their electric chemistry. The amount of laughter and soul makes you forget about any science. Sure there’s an overarching theme, but this is just two people who love each other trying to survive. It is no easy feat to be up there with only each other working through countless iterations of seven events, but that’s what makes the acting so real. The survival of any relationship is completely dependent on how two people take on the world together. As the play goes on and you see how many of the iterations fail it also reminds you that out of every possible choice there’s only one that allows it to continue to move forward. In only 80 minutes this play enlightens on love and science in a way no other play can.
“Constellations” will be at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St., until July 3. For tickets and more information visit steppenwolf.org/Plays-Events/productions/index.aspx?id=657.