“Constellations” Offers a Universe of Ever-Changing Possibilities

 "In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you've ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.” ― “Constellations” playwright Nick Payne

What is ”Constellations” at the Lab at the NorShor Theatre really about? The story spins around in a tilt-a-whirl going in different directions, echoing two actors’ movements around each other as they discuss love, anger, quantum physics, beekeeping, death, romance, sex, jealousy, and, indeed, the very meaning of life.

The Playhouse Lab is an intimate 60-seat space that helps to draw the audience even more into a universe of potential paths one couple’s relationship could take.

Every shifting scene goes “backwards, forwards, and sideways” showing the multitude of choices and decisions the characters in this “two-hander” make. The audience is left to decide what the couple’s true linear path is, or if there ever is a linear path to their lives.

“Constellations” is a tour-de-force acting high wire act for real-life husband and wife Phil Hoelscher and Alyson Enderle. Hoelscher plays Roland, a funny, romantic, sweet, caring, and down-to-earth beekeeper. Enderle as Marianne,  is a theoretical physicist, who is brilliant, passionate, complex, quick-witted, and endlessly frustrating.

On opening night, Alyson Enderle and Phil Hoelscher play Marianne and Roland in “Constellations.” Photo by Duluth Playhouse

As the two characters try to learn about each other, it is not just the small stuff they attempt to figure out, but the big questions of time, space, fate, and free will, as they ride an emotional roller coaster together and apart.

Being so close to the actors allowed the audience to see both the fire and frustration in Enderle’s eyes and the pain and pathos in Hoelscher’s. There was a an undeniable sense of the deep inner life that they each brought to these roles.

However, the nature of the configuration of audience seats means that the actors have their backs to the audience part of the time. People seated to the extreme far left and right (as I was) missed hearing a few lines and seeing some of the actors’ facial expressions. The actors do their best to compensate, making this only a small issue throughout the show.

Marianne (Enderle) tells a secret the audience does not get to hear. Photo by Duluth Playhouse

Watching the actors execute the exhausting and intricate blocking patterns required, and realizing what memorization of this tremendously complex script would have taken them, adds to how impressive these talented actors are. At one point, they even replayed an earlier scene, this time using sign language, offering a whole set of nuances and meaning different from the spoken word.

“Constellations” is a challenging, engaging, and at times, funny piece of theater that raises more questions than it answers. Are Roland and Marianne truly in love? Are they in other relationships? Do they end up together? How do their lifelines connect or diverge? Why do conversations keep rewinding and unwinding, spooling and unspooling in rapid succession?

While making this emotional voyage with the couple, audience members can’t help but ponder their own life choices and how changing even a few small details could derail or improve the train ride of one’s life.

At a fast-paced seventy minutes, without an intermission, the audience is at the center of a whirlwind of alternate realities. Director Justin Peck and his actors had obviously delved into layers of character analysis and the depths of late-night philosophical discussions on some of life’s great conundrums.

And, as if the show is not complex enough, Peck raised the bar even more by using four actors over the nine-performance run. Alyson Enderle and Jess Hughes will alternate as Marianne; with Phil Hoelscher and Hunter Ramsden alternating as Roland.

Playing the roles opposite each other on alternating nights, Enderle and Ramsden give the audience a different take on the relationship of Roland and Marianne. Photo by Duluth Playhouse.

The impact of this casting choice is certain to make some audience members want to see the show more than once to note the changing dynamics that will happen with the actors as they play the same roles with different actors playing opposite them.

“Constellations” requires quite a bit, not only from the actors, but from the audience as well. Yet, it is a play that is sure to elicit many thoughtful after-show discussions as audience members share views on what they saw and heard, what they felt, and what this thought-provoking show is really all about for them.

Marianne (Enderle) and Roland (Ramsden) share a tender, romantic moment. Photo by Duluth Playhouse.

By Nick Payne
April 11-27
The Lab at the NorShor Theatre
213 E. Superior St., Duluth, MN

April 11 at 7:30pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Alyson Enderle
April 12 at 7:30pm – Hunter Ramsden / Alyson Enderle
April 13 at 7:30pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Jess Hughes
April 18 at 7:30pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Alyson Enderle
April 19 at 7:30pm – Hunter Ramsden / Jess Hughes
April 20 at 7:30pm – Hunter Ramsden / Alyson Enderle
April 25 at 8pm – Hunter Ramsden / Jess Hughes
April 26 at 8pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Alyson Enderle
April 27 at 8pm – Phillip Hoelscher / Jess Hughes

Visit the box office at the NorShor Theatre Monday through Friday 10 am-5 pm, call 218-733-7555, or go to www.duluthplayhouse.org/shows/constellations



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