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Culture | It’s in the stars

Constellations strings together quantum mechanics, relativity, and love

Constellations made its first appearance at Centaur Theatre on October 4, inspiring conversations on existentialism, string theory, and beekeeping. Written by Nick Payne and directed by Peter Hinton, the play’s dialogical structure explores the potential existence of parallel universes – and themes beyond the physical world, as it questioned free will and the power of fate.

The play was built on the successive dialogues between two lovers, Marianne and Roland. Each new conversation represents a subtly different universe, as the lovers experience how choices affect the outcomes of their relationship. As the play progresses, different narratives are interwoven by the result of the couple’s actions. Staged on a large, rotating platform resembling a wheel, the couple shifts back and forth between different universes whenever the lights flicker and the platform revolves. Each dialogue exists independently and never intersects with another world. Marianne, played by Cara Ricketts, is a passionate physicist who meets and falls in love with Roland, a beekeeper played by Graham Cuthbertson. When they begin a relationship, the two start their journey toward an unexpected future.

No matter which direction the worlds explored, the will of fate overcame the will of self.

In one universe, during the burgeoning stages of their relationship, Marianne asks Roland: “Do you believe in parallel worlds?” Frustrated, Roland smiles back, awaiting an answer.

“In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever made and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes,” she explains, passionately discussing her work in quantum physics.

“This is genuinely turning me on,” Roland says, right before kissing her.

As their voices fade, an awkward atmosphere ensues that reveals the couple’s contrasting priorities: Marianne’s existential contemplation and Roland’s sexual preoccupation. In the preceding moments, the stage begins to spin. The concept of multiple universes is introduced, providing the answer to Marianne’s previous question. Later, this dialogue is repeated in different settings in alternate universes – representing the change in individual perceptions over time.

Are we, on this earth, manipulated by the invisible hands of fate, or are we the directors of our lives?

This scene sets the pattern that would continue throughout the play: subtle changes continue to reveal the diverging priorities of the characters.

As the lights fade and the wheel in the centre of the stage starts to spin, the universe undergoes a transformation. The dialogues between Marianne and Roland took place once again. With each spin of the wheel, the dialogue was repeated with minor variations. These details, however, would compound and demonstrate the power of individual actions and the impact they have to transform outcomes.

Tensions increase between Marianne and Roland as they move through the stages of their relationship on differing universes. The stories not only depict the emotional trials of a relationship, but also explored Marianne’s different reactions upon discovering that she was diagnosed with cancer. The couple attempt to combat fate across space and time, yet they were hopeless when the end drew near.

The theories of physics were articulated in understandable language that allowed audience to ponder fate and free will without stumbling over scientific words. The concepts of quantum mechanics reveal the subjectivity within high level science. The play displayed love using science as a tool of emotional connectivity instead of cold, hard, rational facts to which it’s usually associated.

Constellations presents long-debated philosophical concepts in a simple, succinct, and light-hearted way that leaves the audience entertained.

If parallel universes exist, to what extent are humans manipulated by fate? Are humans able to make their own decisions? Free will, in Constellations, exists in all the choices made by Marianne and Roland – as they ultimately chose different paths. In one universe, they were merely friends. In another, they married happily. In every universe presented, the couple undergoes different paths. However, it seemed to the playwright that none of these choices matter. No matter which direction the worlds explored, the will of fate overcame the will of self.

The playwright incited the audience to think about the tension between one’s fate versus the choices one makes. Are we, on this earth, manipulated by the invisible hands of fate, or are we the directors of our lives?

Lucia Kowaluk, a seasonal pass holder of the Centaur Theatre, was clearly astonished by this question. “This is the best show they have put together in while,” she told The Daily, “The directing and acting are absolutely brilliant and beautifully articulated. It explored so many intense societal problems such as sex, relationships, death, and it is clearly accurate [in it’s portrayal of these societal issues].”

Constellations presents long-debated philosophical concepts in a simple, succinct, and light-hearted way that leaves the audience entertained. “As [Lucia] said, the show was beautiful and dense,” Jean Crawford, another season pass holder, told The Daily. “The [cellist solo] added to the meaning and enhance the stories. It is definitely worth seeing and recommending.”


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