Feb 22, 2016

[Theater] Constellations (Red Turnip Theater)

Given how 33 Variations and This Is Our Youth had turned out, it really felt like Red Turnip was onto something in terms of the theatrical productions it was tackling. And they had been taking steps to try new venues versus always using Whitespace, which really wasn't a theater experience that I was enjoying.

We went into Constellations a little blind. I had only skimmed over the synopsis for the play while booking tickets but I was pretty committed to getting the tickets regardless. It just sort of helped things along that it had a science-y feel to things since the very title involved stars, but I wasn't prepared for what the show would be.

What we got was a non-liner narrative that was elegant and not too confusing once you got a feel for things. It's a play that doesn't feel the need to hold your hand since it trusts the audience will be able to keep up with things. And the pay-off is, well, nothing short of brilliant. And they found two stellar actors to really bring this story to life.

Synopsis: Constellations is a two-handler play written by Nick Payne. It originally premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 2012 and eventually won the Best Play category in the Evening Standard Theatre Awards. This Red Turnip Theater production was directed by Rem Zamora and ran from February 12 - March 6, 2016 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight at Circuit Makati.

It's to summarize this play given the generally non-linear way it is told. This is more than just a story that starts at the end and we experience things in a series of flashbacks. Instead we have a story that also includes all possible iterations of the story presented to us in scene after scene after scene. At it's simplest, this is a story about a boy who meets a girl and we see whether or not they end up together. But we don't precisely have scenes - instead we have vignettes or moments or snippets of time.

Cris Villonco plays Marianne, a feisty woman whose career involves the study of quantum mechanics. This is important since it also relates to the manner this story is told. There's a bit in the middle where she tries to explain what she does professionally and we get a mini-lecture on the possibility of multiverse created for every single choice we face. Villonco is brilliant in this role and her ability to shift mood and tone so quickly was all essential to really making this play work.

JC Santos plays Roland, the charming beekeeping love interest and sometimes antagonist. He was an interesting choice given he didn't necessarily feel as polished as I would have liked, but at the same time the slight awkwardness added to the charm of the role. You could clearly believe that he was struggling to keep up with what Marianne had to say and in the end he was truly devoted to her.

The set was brilliant - a seemingly simple set of carpeted platforms made surreal with creative use of nylon strings to create a web around the performers that helped it feel like you were watching things through a constellation. Or we could be a little more literal and to see the nylon to represent the sort of strings that define super string theory and how we deal with quantum entanglement between individuals.

I can't imagine what rehearsals were like for this play given you end up saying the same lines over and over and over again  but with different intonations, facial expressions and even blocking. As we go through each iteration of a scene, each version of reality that could have or never will happen, we slowly learn more about the characters based on what remains the same and what changes. We see what is most important and we see what may only exist in one version of reality.

And the whole story of budding romance to early relationship is also inter-woven with a story that clearly takes further in the future where Marianne is faced with bad news and Roland struggles to find a way to help her. I really don't want to say more since I don't want to spoil it for people who might still get a chance to watch the play.

Constellations is beautiful, and I can say this as a general theater-goer and not just as a geek who loves it when writers find ways to make science concepts sound romantic. It's an amazing theater experience that I strongly urge people to see, no matter how tricky it might be to commute to Circuit Makati. Thus I'm more than ready to give the play a full 5 versions of that first meeting between Roland and Marianne out of a possible 5.

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