The Station Theatre was alive this past weekend with show-stopping performances by two very talented actors, Mathew Green and Rachel Hejmanowski. In fact, these two were the only actors to grace the stage for the Celebration Company’s presentation of Constellations, written by Nick Payne and directed by longstanding company member Kay Bohannon Holley.
I wondered, upon entering the theatre, how captivated I could honestly be by a play featuring just two actors who only played one character each. I exited the theatre about an hour and a half later with my solidified answer: very captivated, indeed.
Constellations is a play that answers the questions we wonder to ourselves whenever we make any kind of decision: what would have happened if I had made the opposite choice? The play may be a collection of 40 plus scenes, but many of these scenes are repeated versions of the same scenario that replay in entirely different ways apart from their predecessors. In one scene, Rachel’s character Marianne may be feeling anxious and apologetic for cheating on Mathew’s character Roland, but in the repeat, she is irritated by even having to apologize and explain herself.
Constellations does not exclusively play around with the potential choices that the characters do or do not make, however, but also explores varying potential attitudes, personalities, and extraneous life choices of each of the characters. For instance, when Marianne and Roland meet at a barbeque, sometimes Roland is married… although that information is perhaps coincidentally paired with Roland’s apparent desire to flee from the crazy woman trying to lick her elbow.
A more somber example of this is Marianne being diagnosed with a serious illness in one of the distinct storyline/universe possibilities. Her struggle to maintain her speech breeds a quiet and still emotionally stirring scene in which Roland and Marianne are having an impassioned discussion via sign language. I would assume that I was in the majority that night as an audience member who is almost completely unfamiliar with sign language, aside from the entirely unimpressive and rudimentary ability to sign my own name. And yet, I assume that I am also in the majority when I say that the emotional depth of that scene was not at all lost on me. I have no idea as to whether Mathew Green or Rachel Hejmanowski are fluent in or had previous knowledge of sign language, but surely they deserve praise regardless for their ability to communicate so effectively to an audience who couldn’t hear them.
Although a scene like this one was full of emotional depth and complexity, some of the other scenes moved in such a way that mimicked thoughtless activity, like channel surfing or hitting “scan” on your car radio. The transitions between scenes sometimes happened so quickly and featured such minute and ineffectual changes that the choice to include them seemed overall to confuse the plot more than to move it along. In one scene, Marianne is the cheater and in another it’s Roland, but the differences within those framing scenes were so small that the continuous repetition became exhausting to watch. Times like these made getting lost in the jumbled nature of the play easy, stuck trying to find your footing and figure out which framing storyline you were following, where it was trying to go, and how much longer it would take to get there.
Considering the play revolves around the possibilities of a couple’s relationship, sometimes getting caught up in the repetition effectively mimicked what it’s like to be in a complicated relationship ourselves. We kept seeing different variations of the same fight over and over, and that’s a very real look at how our own relationships can break; constantly band-aiding our bullet holes instead of truly healing and suffering from the same fights over and over because of it. So while we sometimes felt exhausted after sitting through the tenth version of the same scenario, we were reminded how important it is to avoid the same trap in our real lives outside of the theatre.
Regardless, the play was able to pack an impressive emotional cacophony into such a limited space. These two actors had nothing but a small, black-box stage, two wooden blocks, and each other to use as props. Absent of what would have been an unnecessary stagehand crew, each time the lights went down to signify the end of a scene, the two actors transformed their wooden boxes from a table into chairs and adjusted their positions on stage before the lights came up again for the next scene. In the darkness, they would wipe their eyes of the fresh tears from the last scene’s universe and prepare a smile for the next universe’s possibility. The movement from one radical emotion to the opposite in order to explore the multilayered possibilities of each decision over and over again certainly must have been challenging for Mathew and Rachel, although they did quite a job disguising that from us.
Ultimately, Constellations paints the sometimes broken and sometimes beautiful picture of two individuals and the multitude of ways that they can cross paths, fall in and out of love, choose to have a drink, or never to see one another again. It’s a play that reminds us to pay attention to every choice we make, to be good to each other, and to appreciate what and who we have because life may just be too short to spend our time wrapped up in everything that could have been.
Constellations is playing at the Station Theatre in Urbana Wednesday, March 30th through Sunday, April 3rd and Wednesday, April 6th through Sunday, April 9th. All shows will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets for Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday shows are $10 and $15 for Friday and Saturday shows. Reservations can be made on their website or by calling (217) 384-4000.
About the writer, Carly Smith:
Carly is a current senior studying English at U of I. She spends her time watching campy horror movies, playing music, and hanging with her dog Archer. You can generally find her making impulse buys at Target or on Twitter @snarlyjones.
All photos by Scott Wells
Scott is a U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of Illinois. He has been a photographer and writer for Smile Politely since March of 2015.