The words “what if” begin some of the most intriguing, unanswerable scenarios humans can ponder.
What if I had married this person instead of that one? What if I hadn’t turned down this job or landed that one? What if I decided to remain childless? What if I had become a parent? How different would my life be?
Again and again, artists have considered the impact of decisions and chance in our lives. Poet Robert Frost did so in The Road Not Taken. The 1998 movie Sliding Doors turns on timing, imagining how a woman’s life would play out if she does or doesn’t catch a train. The 2014 Broadway musical If/Then follows a newly divorced woman along two different paths as she rebuilds her life in New York.
Nick Payne’s play Constellations, which premiered in London in 2012 and had a limited Broadway run at the beginning of 2015, digs more deeply into the world(s) of “what if.” Using the principles of quantum physics, the play imagines a multiverse in which past, present and future coexist, and each decision (or chance encounter) is part of a chain playing out in myriad ways.
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GableStage has just begun its 18th season at the Biltmore Hotel with Payne’s challenging play, and though Constellations may not be everyone’s cup of cosmic tea, the company’s fine production is yet another testament to artistic director Joseph Adler’s ability to illuminate and clearly communicate all sorts of material.
Of course the telling of the story is up to the actors playing Marianne, a Cambridge University physicist specializing in “theoretical early universe cosmology,” and Roland, a working-class beekeeper who makes a decent living selling honey. The impressive contributions of set designer Lyle Baskin, lighting designer Jeff Quinn and sound designer Matt Corey are also key to the drama’s clarity, as each small snippet of a scene in the 75-minute play takes place in a distinct spot in the Constellations multiverse.
Adler’s adept storytellers are Katherine Amadeo as Marianne and Antonio Amadeo as Roland. The married, award-winning actors are among South Florida’s best theater artists, and their work — which at times involves varying their delivery of nearly identical speeches — keeps all the different versions of the two characters clear.
Katherine Amadeo’s highly educated Marianne, who sports an upper class British accent, is by turns flirty, frosty, frustrated, angry, fearful, pragmatic. Antonio Amadeo’s Roland, who has a low-key working class accent, is besotted, playful, physically aggressive, devastated or endearing, depending on the scene.
As to the story they tell, Payne’s play explores multiple “what if” situations. As in, what if the two split up or married others? What if he cheated? What if she did? What if a medical diagnosis came as a relief? What if it spelled death?
Constellations isn’t the usual linear drama that GableStage and so many other South Florida theaters most often program. But for audiences willing to traverse its multiverse, it’s rewarding.
If you go
What: ‘Constellations’ by Nick Payne.
Where: GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 20.
Information: 305-445-1119 or www.gablestage.org.