Constellations, ATP- Martha Cohen Theatre, Calgary

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Jamie Konchak and Mike Tan in Constellations. Photo: Benjamin Laird. (Set & Lights: David Fraser, Costumes: Hanne Loosen)

Alberta Theatre Project’s latest production brings English playwright Nick Payne’s curious two-hander Constellations to the Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary.

Premiering upstairs at the Royal Court in 2012, Payne’s play bears many of the hallmarks of his creative alma mater: it’s lean, witty, and gravitates around a clear theatrical gambit – traversing the ethical quagmire of quantum multiverse theory. While the play never fully realizes the potential of its subject matter, however, ATP’s production remains worth seeing for its delicate direction, and a charming central performance from Jamie Konchak.

Constellations unpacks the implications of our smallest choices in life and love through a series of connected vignettes, revealing the intersections of multiple relationships between its two central characters: Roland (a beekeeper from Wiltshire), and Marianne (an astrophysicist from Cambridge University).

As Marianne helpfully explains, the theoretical premise of quantum multiverse theory is that: “every choice, every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes”. The action of the play begins as our central pair meet at the barbeque(s) of a mutual friend(s), and follows their journey(s) together through a series of intimacies and betrayals for better/worse; for richer/poorer; in sickness/heath; ‘til palliative care they do part. And it is here that the production is at its most touching.

At different stages during the multiple narratives it is revealed that Marianne (Konchak) is suffering from an aggressive brain cancer, which begins to cause seizures and inhibit her motor functions. In Konchak’s touching and beautifully subtle performance, Marianne’s emotional and physical decline is handled with an expertise that never sacrifices her sardonic wit in the pursuit of pathos. This is epitomised in a deeply moving scene conducted entirely in ASL, where a now speechless Marianne threatens to haunt Roland (Mike Tan) if he ever posts pictures of her decline on internet chat-rooms.

Played out on a near-bare stage, the production is deftly directed by Valerie Planche (Skylight, Bad Jews), who successfully foregrounds the performances of Konchak and Tan with a lightness of touch that never imposes itself upon the multiple narratives. Ably supported by David Fraser’s delicate lighting and set design, Planche’s production serves to highlight its strongest elements (Konchak’s magnetic central performance), allowing Payne’s occasionally frustrating plot to stand on its own.

Running at 75-minutes, Constellations leaves plenty of time to muse over dinner afterwards about the multiple universes in which the Calgary snow has finally melted.

Constellations runs at the Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary’s Arts Commons from now until March 17th. Tickets and info at www.atplive.com

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