Love and the universe onstage at Shea’s Smith Theatre

If COVID’s theatre blackout period delivered one positive thing, it’s the option for regional theatre companies to successfully present smaller cast, one act productions. As much as I love a full-on, two and a half hour show with an intermission, these one act, two and three-handers are a little slice of stage heaven.

The latest one is Constellations by Nick Payne, beautifully presented by Second Generation Theatre at Shea’s Smith Theatre.

It’s a show of scenes, often repeated multiple times with the same set up, same script, and different outcomes, all skillfully directed by Michael Wachowiak. If you’re a fan of the TV series This Is Us, you’re comfortable in this format of flashbacks and flashforwards, where scenes may not immediately make sense, but coalesce in surprisingly simple and evocative ways.

Actors Kristin Bentley and Chris Avery are Marianne (the physicist) and Roland (the beekeeper), meeting by chance at a friend’s barbecue. This is a love story with a side of physics.  Yes, physics. Not the nerd love of Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler of Big Bang Theory fame. (I know, another TV show touchpoint.) In this show the focus is on the people and the science is backburnered. Love and the universe knit together in a sadly romantic and simply stunning way, because in physics “We have all the time we ever had,” said Marianne.

I think if you would see the script written in a linear, traditional format, perhaps it might only fill a few pages. The repetition – separated by blackouts of varying duration – and the actors’ change of placement give the story an interesting arc that bends like a FM radio wave, wrapping over and around obstacles to reach our listening ears. Wachowiak’s direction here is sublime: the actors move from sitting to standing, stage right to stage left, a step away and 10 paces back, in these spaces between light and dark. Audio effects (the rumble of the Earth’s plates, perhaps) mask their footfalls and movement. It’s like watching still life art come to life.

Bentley and Avery play their roles exceptionally well. Bentley is animated and charming as Marianne, and she focuses like a laser when she talks about science. Avery’s Roland makes notes when he’s describing the world of bees and they bond over their mutual love of order, he for his bees and she for the orders of the universe. She talks about relativity and string theory, he talks about bee habits and how pollen is captured. Their story is sweet, but sometimes the universe has its own plans.

Lighting director Chris Cavanagh also designed the sound and these production elements were as important as the script and actors. Together this ensemble created an exquisite experience.

Constellations is onstage until March 26, running 75 minutes, no intermission, at Shea’s Smith Theatre. Details and tickets at www.secondgenerationtheatre.com.

Photo provided, Mark Duggan Photography