One of the things that make the play Constellations unique is the way it jumps through parallel universes. The two main characters appear in many different versions of reality, and as we watch these variations unfold, we gain beautiful insights to the characters and their journey. Many self-help books and religious writings tell us that we learn by looking at situations from the perspective of others. In this play, the perspectives we look at are (almost) limitless.
Presenting different versions of a narrative has been used in drama before, most notably in the movie Rashomon. A Japanese film from 1950, twice adapted for the stage, the story of Rashomon is told through several characters, all with a different recollection of the same situation. Their stories show the subjective and contradictory nature of memory, but also highlight the individual motives people have for giving their own spin on a story.
Constellations does something new. Each scene plays out in its own completely new universe with differences in context that range from subtle to extreme. The idea of infinite universes, or the “multiverse,” is based on a contemporary idea from theoretical physics called string theory. Although the math behind this idea is pretty intense, Brian Green, a professor at Columbia University describes this it in a way that made sense to me:
“The idea of string theory is: perhaps, not proven but perhaps, inside [all] particles there is something else, which is a little tiny filament, a little tiny string-like filament, that’s why we call it string theory. And these little filaments can vibrate, just like the string in a violin, it vibrates, produces different musical tones. In string theory, these different vibrations don’t produce music, they produce the different kinds of particles. So a little string vibrating in one pattern would be an electron. A little string vibrating in a different pattern would be a quark. Everything is kind of united under this one idea of vibrating strings.”
The mathematics of string theory suggests that more dimensions to our world may exist, and because of these other dimensions, other universes may exist. I know this is a big leap, but we’re just going to have to trust the theoretical physicists that it’s a possibility. Sound far-fetched? I thought so too, but Green makes this point:
“We thought the earth was the center of the universe for a while. Then we thought well maybe it’s the sun. Then we realized, no the sun is just one of billions of stars in the galaxy. But we thought, well, the galaxy is central to the universe. No, the galaxy is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies. So now maybe it’s the next step. Maybe our universe is not central to reality, it’s just one of many universes. So rather than being special or central, we’re just one of a grand collection.”
Next Stage and Knockdowndragout Productions launch their first collaborative venture with this production of Constellations by Nick Payne. Performances are November 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11 at 8pm at IAO Gallery, 706 W. Sheridan, OKC 73102. Tickets are $25 at the door.