A single light shines over the empty stage at The Station Theatre as actor Mathew Green sweeps up before rehearsal. He brushes some dust off his beard as his co-actor, Rachel Hejmanowski, walks in through the side door, her short brown hair twinkling in the light. They pause in face of one another for a moment, and together, they let out a long deep breath.
With just Hejmanowski and Green onstage, the entire cast is here to rehearse for The Station’s upcoming production, Constellations, a star-crossed love story about time, circumstance, and how the choices we make affect our lives. “Just between the two of them, they carry this story forward,” remarks Kay Bohannon Holley, the director of the show. But even with only two actors, there’s a lot to be gleaned.
The story of Constellations is told through the characters of Roland and Marianne. Roland (portrayed by Green) is a zealous beekeeper, and Marianne, (Hejmanowski), is a dedicated physicist. In the midst of the passions the characters have for their careers, the story revolves around the intersection of their lives and how their relationship emerges as a result.
“They’re both in fields that cause them to be pretty isolated,” explains Green. “They’re very dedicated to their careers, so they each have these intellectual pursuits that sort of define and consume them.” And that, adds Hejmanowski, “all feeds directly into their interactions and their relationship.”
Having just two characters is not the only thing that makes this play special. What also makes the story unique is that “we watch their relationship unfold in many realities,” as opposed to just one, says Bohannon Holley. “So at each stage of their relationship—the first time they meet, the first time they have a date, etcetera— we see a number of different versions of that stage. And each one of the versions is, in the concept of the play, taking place in a different universe.”
Constellations, written by Nick Payne in 2012, is rooted in the multiverse theory of quantum mechanics. By this mindset, “we live not just in a universe,” explains Bohannon Holley, “but a multiverse, where there are an infinite number of universes. So that means there are an infinite number of possibilities of what can happen in any situation.”
Through the story of Constellations, we see this firsthand as we go through different scenarios of Roland and Marianne’s relationship, watching how different circumstances and choices affect the outcomes of that relationship. “For example,” says Bohannon Holley, “when they first meet, we see five different versions of the way that they meet.” Sometimes it works out for them, and sometimes, it doesn’t. “Like my character expresses in the play,” adds Hejmanowski, “Every choice you make and don’t make has a consequence.”
With such intense focus on the relationship between Roland and Marianne, the show creates an intimate setting not only for the cast, but for the audience members as well. Hejmanowski is excited by the fact that The Station Theatre offers a very fitting venue for that: “The show is so intimate and our space here at the theatre is so intimate. When it comes together, it’s really quite magical.”
With the actors and the audience enveloped in the story, a genuinely charged space is created. “It’s all about the honesty of the moment,” Green expands. “It’s two actors on stage, committed to the moment and to portraying that moment honestly— whether it’s joy or pain or surprise or disappointment — any emotion that comes up. You’re so close to the stage and the actors are so close to the audience that you’re not just presenting it to them, you’re sharing it with them.” Within the intimate setting of The Station, “all of us are going to be experiencing something together.”
As it all comes together, everyone engaged in Constellations gets the opportunity to experience a story that all of us can connect to, not only through its multiple universes, but through its universality. For audience members and actors alike, “You are making physical, mental, and emotional transitions constantly,” expresses Hejmanowski. Through life’s trials of passion, love, choice, and consequence, we all connect, the play encompassing of all of us. And the expression of these themes in Constellations “isn’t just the traditional notion of ‘the infinity of love’” explains Bohannon Holley. “It’s a more contemporary, more intellectually-palatable idea of the infinite importance, power, beauty, and truth in life and in love.” The audience doesn’t need to understand quantum mechanics or multiverse theory to relate to that: they just need to know what it is to live. We are taken through so many facets of that in the show. As director Bohannon Holley ascribes, for anyone observing, “this play could be so many things”. With a dedicated group, an engaged audience, and the open space of a special little theatre, the stage is set for possibility.
Constellations runs from March 24th-April 9th at The Station Theatre, located at 223 N. Broadway Ave in Urbana, with all performances beginning at 8 p.m. You can view the show schedule and reserve tickets through The Station Theatre website, or by calling (217)384-4000.
Stephanie Lenchard Warren is an arts writer for Smile Politely. She is a visual artist and nonfiction writer, whose work explores finding ourselves in nature as well as the nature in ourselves.