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Sci-Fi Romance

Wednesday, December 05, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Nick Payne’s award-winning play 2012 play Constellations, that has had several productions abroad (at least a few with star names), gets a new Mumbai version, produced by the NCPA, directed by Bruce Guthrie, with Jim Sarbh and Mansi Multani.

The two-hander is at its core a sappy love story (of the Erich Segal variety), but written cleverly in layers, so that the meet-cute and various stages of the relationship happen in parallel universes, in a kind of cyclical structure (a concept explored in sci-fi and a part of Hindu philosophy). So, to put it simply the same scenes and lines are repeated several times with different outcomes. To put it in complicated terms there is quantum mechanics and string theory at work here—which hardly anybody in the audience will understand. But think Groundhog Day and you would get the idea.

Roland (Sarbh), a beekeeper, and Marianne (Multani), a cosmologist meet at a barbeque, where she makes the first move—for a smart woman, she uses a rather silly “can you lick your elbow?” conversation starter. In one iteration he is married, in another he is with someone, in yet another they hook up and so on. The signposts of a romantic relationship are all there, but their love story or the lack thereof, progresses in different ways, depending on how the previous scene went. (“In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever made and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.” Says Marianne. “This is genuinely turning me on,” comments Roland.)

This is, no doubt, challenging for the playwright—how to make the scene/s interesting and not bore the audience with the repetition. The slack then has to be picked up by the actors, who, in this case, manage the precision of the scene changes, but not always the variation required.

The too-ostentatious design, with the stage in a honeycomb design, and dozens of bulbs dangling from the ceiling, which flash and crackle intermittently, distract from the warmth and humour of the writing. Depending on the level of energy and chemistry he actors bring to a particular performance, Constellations can go either way—a lively interaction between opposites, or a test of the audience’s patience. Luckily, at a compact 70 minutes, the attention span is not stretched to breaking point.

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