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Theater Review: “Constellations"

Christian Coulson as Roland in "Constellations."
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If someone told me I could live forever if I could lick my own elbow, the absurdity of the assertion would strike me less than the sheer undesirability of the notion of immortality.

So I grew a little impatient when this opening conversational gambit between just-met scientist Marianne (Victoria Frings) and beekeeper Roland (Christian Coulson) took place three times in succession in perhaps three different, possibly parallel universes, with three different endings. Do these two actually meet? Connect? Marry? Or is this all some kind of extraterrestrial dream?

After a while, as situations continue to repeat, you realize that playwright Nick Payne is exploring quantum mechanics, cosmology, multiverses and parallel universes in his short, mind-bending and very strange two-hander “Constellations,” playing through May 8 at The Old Globe’s White Theatre.

“We’re just particles,” says Marianne, the theoretical cosmologist.

“Speak for yourself,” counters Roland.

Further, Marianne believes that “everything you have ever and never done” exists out there in some universe.

What, if anything, does this mean?

Maybe nothing, maybe everything. But the unavoidable take-away of the emotional push-pull of this show is that communication and connection are difficult, easily missed and not easily maintained. A glance, an inflection, an infelicitous turn of phrase can do as much damage as a physical encounter. And ultimately, words fail.

Coulson’s beekeeper Roland lives and works in nature, where action rules. His is the quieter role, but his flashes of emotion, resentment, anger are right on.

Frings’ Marianne lives in a world of words, ideas and theories. She’s more fun to watch, but we can identify with the awkwardness of both in interpersonal encounters.

Bravo to both Frings and Coulson for making the scripted repetitiousness of their encounters sound different each time, rather than like acting exercises.

Richard Seer directs sensitively on David Israel Reynoso’s hexagonal space (suggesting honeycombs?). Blue lights bounce off the walls, apparently suggestive of something, but I missed the meaning.

“Constellations” is an oddball of a piece – sometimes annoying, sometimes frustrating – but always unusual and thought-provoking, and leaving us all to ponder what might have been.

The Details

“Constellations” plays through May 8, 2016 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or theoldglobe.org