BroadwayWorld Atlanta Review: CONSTELLATIONS Shines at Horizon Theatre

February 16th, 2017

For every “what if” you’ve asked in a dating relationship, “What if I just hadn’t been…?” or “What if he hadn’t said…?” Horizon Theatre’s CONSTELLATIONS has an answer. And another. And another.

Centered on the non-linear progression of a romantic couple, the play shows how a conversation can alter a relationship with just the change of a word or tone of voice. The two-person play presents many parallel universes (like LOST on steroids, but without the constant bewilderment).

What writer Nick Payne nails right off the bat is ease the audience into the repetitive nature of the piece without losing them to its unconventional timeline. Marianne strikes up a conversation with Roland using a seemingly inane remark about why it’s impossible to lick one’s elbow, and within a few words she comes to an awkward standstill. Then the lights change, the couple adjusts their positions on the stage, and she tries again. Small tweaks in word choice or personal circumstances indicate these parallel universes are full of similarities, but each holds entirely different outcomes. In one iteration, Roland already has a girlfriend. In another, Marianne seems to weird him out. And finally, they really click.

At first, the show is made up of these short, romantic comedy-esque clips which repeat themselves a few times and then skip forward or backwards in time to a new such scene. Were these flirty scenes the full extent of the show’s range, we may all walk away saying, “That was a fun little journey in first date lore,” and would likely talk about it for a few days, anticipating the forthcoming so-so productions at high school one-act competitions for the rest of eternity. But what saves CONSTELLATIONS from simply being a sweet rom-com is its transformation from fun possibilities in flirty exchanges to very serious what-ifs with lasting consequences. And this is what makes CONSTELLATIONS really stick with you.

A standout sequence occurs when Marianne (played by Bethany Irby) confesses to Roland (Enoch King)- without giving spoilers- some very distressing news. We see many iterations of this same scene in which sometimes he’s sad, sometimes he’s mad, in another she’s sad, or he takes the news graciously, etc. Then the exact same sequence happens yet again, this time with the two switching lines completely, and the same range of emotions yet again transpires. Overall, the slightly different nuances relentlessly utilized by Irby and King in vignette after vignette showcase a narrative specific enough to tell a good story, but vague enough to allow the audience to relate very specifically.

As complicated as it may sound, what Horizon does best is create a clear, heart-wrenching show provoking deep introspection, without for an instant causing the audience to step out of the story to say, “Wait, what…?” Lighting design (Mary Parker), scenic design (Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay), projections design (Bobby Johnston), and sound design (Rob Brooksher) all notably convey the transformation of worlds throughout the show, contributing heavily to its clarity.

Bethany Irby as Marianne expertly switches from sobbing in one scene to happy in the next, and all this critic could think was how does she ride this twisting emotional roller coaster night after night and not collapse from emotional exhaustion afterwards? The flirty sequences showcase some hilarious antics from Irby as she navigates awkward silences and verbal missteps. And yet, she grabs the audience by the heart and won’t let go just minutes later. Under the direction of Justin Anderson, both King and Irby brilliantly convey the entire spectrum of emotions, as they work as a pair to create a complex series of possible stories.