Leigh Matthews Bock, the director, occasionally likes to leave her actors on stage after a play ends and audience members file out. Sometimes, an audience member or two will approach the stage to ask a question of a cast member or pass along a comment.
But during Feb. 11’s opening of the two-character play in Keizer, many audience members stayed behind. The result was what Bock called “an impromptu talkback.”
“The audience didn’t want to leave,” Bock said. “They wanted to stay invested in these two characters.”
People asked questions about the characters. They asked about the various ways “Constellations” explores their relationship.
And they asked about theoretical physics.
It’s all part of Payne’s critically praised 2012 play. Now, after its successful run in Keizer, Bock and her cast and crew are bringing the production to Corvallis for a two-weekend run at the Majestic Theatre in Corvallis, where it opens Friday. (See the related story below for ticket information and other details.)
“Constellations” starts simply enough as Roland (played by Michael Winder), meets Marianne (Laura Blackwell) at a barbecue. Roland is a beekeeper. Marianne is an academic who specializes in “theoretical early universe cosmology.” One of the areas she studies is “the quantum multiverse” (a notion somewhat familiar these days to anyone following the Marvel Cinematic Universe). At one point in “Constellations,” she tells Roland that “every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”
To illustrate the point, each of the scenes in “Constellations” is repeated multiple times, and audience members can witness how even something as small as a different tone of voice can change the course of the scene – or the course of a romance.
Or the course of a life.
Bock said the play ties into a universal human question: “I know all of us at some point, if not multiple times in our life, have thought about the choices I’m making – how is that going to affect me down the road? How will it change my life? In this play, we get to see that, we get to see the different choices that they make and how that changes their lives.”
Bock read “Constellations” years ago and found It fascinating. “I never read a play that was constructed in that way. It’s a really different and unique way to present a story, so that intrigued me.”
She originally had plans to stage “Constellations” at Linn-Benton Community College in the spring of 2021, but those plans were waylaid by the pandemic. But her contacts with Winder, the events and production coordinator at LBCC, about doing the show there did bring an unexpected benefit: Winder expressed an interest in the part of Roland, just in case Bock hadn’t cast it yet. Bock, who knew Winder’s work in dozens of mid-valley productions, was happy to oblige.
Blackwell was studying in England when Bock first came across “Constellations.” Bock was staying in touch with Blackwell and sent her a message about this fascinating play she had just read. It turned out that Blackwell had read it too and shared Bock’s enthusiasm for the show. Bock said she knew that Blackwell could portray Marianne “in a really interesting way, just full of humanity.”
Bock had no doubt that Blackwell and Winder would click together on stage, and she said that’s been confirmed during rehearsals: “It’s just been magical, the chemistry they have created and it’s just so believable. It feels like you are peeking in at someone else’s relationship and are learning things on the sly about them.”
One of Bock’s secret weapons in the production is her assistant director, Tom Martin, a retired chemistry teacher at Corvallis High School who’s become the show’s unofficial science adviser. When the crowd at the Keizer production asked about the physics behind the show, Martin was able to answer the questions.
And, yes, Bock said, physics is important to the show, but that’s not all. “It is about theoretical physics and love being all smashed up together, but it’s really about these two people and choice and chance and how that shapes our lives and where it doesn’t take us.”
A formal talkback session is scheduled after the March 6 matinee at the Majestic. But if an informal talkback breaks out after one of the other performances of “Constellations” at the Majestic, Bock said her cast and crew will be ready: “We will do whatever the audience needs.”
If You Go
What: “Constellations,” by Nick Payne.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 4-5 and March 11-12. A 2:30 p.m. matinee is scheduled for March 6.
Where: The Majestic Theatre, 115 SW Second St.
How much: Tickets are $11, $16 and $21. Click here to purchase tickets.
Of note: The Majestic’s COVID-19 protocols will be in effect. Attendees of all ages will be required to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours before entry. Home tests are not adequate: test results must be from a lab with the patron’s name on the results. Attendees will be required to wear masks during the performance. Concessions will not be available. Patrons may not move to different seats after arrival.
Is the play appropriate for young children? Probably not, due to mature themes. The Majestic has rated the production PG-13.