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Theater Review (San Antonio): Nick Payne’s ‘Constellations’ at the Cellar Theatre

Is the universe we live in actually one of many levels of contemporaneous existence? That’s the intriguing theory proposed by Nick Payne in his two-hander Constellations, now making its Texas premiere at the Cellar Theatre.

Constellations tells the story of the relationship between Marianne (Kate Glasheen), a theoretical physicist, and Roland (Jeff Jeffers), a self-employed beekeeper. When they first meet, Marianne attempts to describe to Roland what she does. She explains that everyone in the world is part of a vast multiverse, and several outcomes can coexist simultaneously.

Payne elaborates on this notion by demonstrating it in action. The piece is comprised of a series of extremely brief segments that are repeated with subtle (and not-so-subtle) variations. In just over an hour, we experience each stage of Marianne and Roland’s relationship from multiple perspectives. As their attitudes shift, so do the endless possibilities of what may lie ahead for them. If it sounds confusing, it’s not, as it has been ingeniously assembled by the playwright.

Jeff Jeffers and Kate Glasheen in Nick Payne’s Constellations, now playing at the Cellar Theatre (photo: danscape).

We’re whisked through their courtship, betrayals, break-ups and proposals. Ultimately, they face the dire prospect of mortality itself when Marianne is diagnosed with a brain tumor and loses the ability to string words together in the correct order.

Glasheen and Jeffers are both excellent in rather demanding roles. The precision with which they change perspectives is impressive, especially since they must alter not only their words but also their attitudes in a flash. Given the play’s brief length, their ability to flesh out these characters and make them real is impressive.

Jesse Worley’s sound design is appropriately astrophysical, helping to guide the audience with aural effects that cue the characters’ tonal shifts. Nicholas Ponting’s scenic design is appropriately subdued, consisting of painted shapes to represent the themes being presented, and his work is complemented by Dan “Doc” Heggem’s equally low-key lighting design. The direction by Molly Cox is effective and also unobtrusive.

Constellations plays Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through November 19 at the Cellar Theatre, 800 West Ashby Place. Tickets are available online or by calling (210) 733-7258.

About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and inbound marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.

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