The play is called Constellations, but it’s not about your horoscope or the starry sky. Not exactly. You could say that anyone who lives on this planet goes through life “under the stars,” but that’s not really the point. It does take inspiration from subjects such as relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and beekeeping, but you won’t find any Greek mythology or rising moons in the script. What you will find is one-of-a-kind storytelling that follows two ordinary people through a multitude of universes.
So why is this play called Constellations? Technically speaking, a constellation is a grouping of stars that form an identifiable pattern and has been given a name in accordance with the shape. As we all know, there are 12 (or 13, depending on who you ask) notable constellations that have associations with mythological characters, carrying long lists of associated qualities on their backs. Nick Payne’s play Constellations has a unique structure, where certain words and phrases keep reappearing in different scenes, forming patterns that give rise to new ideas and truths each time they appear. Therefore you might say that each scene is, in a metaphorical sense, a constellation.
The zodiac, in various forms, has been around since at least the 1st millennium BCE. To describe this system in one very broad stroke, the zodiac uses the movement of constellations through the sky to ascribe personality traits, suggest areas for self-improvement, and predict the future. The scenes throughout this play serve a similar purpose, asking the audience to observe different, nuanced aspects of each character as situations move from one universe to another. Each change in universe is like entering a new period of the zodiac, governed by a fresh set of rules and context.
Stars and their power have long been a common theme in stage dramas. The star-crossed love of Romeo and Juliet and Jason Robert Brown’s song Stars and the Moon are well-known examples. But this play explores the meaning of our stars, or, more inclusively, our universe, in a special way. As the journey of the two characters, Marianne and Roland, hops from one constellation to the next, we get an opportunity to better understand that age-old question, “What if?” Even though we may never have the final answer, this unique piece of theatre gives us a glimpse of the possibilities.
Constellations plays November 3 – 11, 2017, at Individual Artists of Oklahoma – IAO Gallery, 706 W Sheridan Ave, in Oklahoma City.
Photos by Aperature Vintage & Greg Rakozy