Tyler Marchant has a hard time explaining his latest directorial project. “Constellations” is one of those plays that can’t be wholly summarized in a few simple sentences, but he’ll give it a try for those who ask.
“I’ve said, ‘It’s a choose your own adventure love story between a beekeeper and a theoretical physicist,’” Marchant said.
That is the simplest way to describe the two-person play by Nick Payne. Audiences observe Roland and Marianne reliving their relationship in different universes where the decisions and outcomes are different.
The romantic story is blanketed with the concept of time, what it means to Marianne and Roland, and what that means for the rest of us.
“Constellations” hit Broadway in 2015 starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson.
Now Theatre LILA is bringing the charming play (starring Marcus Truschinski and Andrea San Miguel) to Madison audiences with performances Jan. 26-Feb. 4 in Memorial Union’s Fredric March Play Circle.
The show may sound complicated, but it really is accessible to everyone even if audience members aren’t particularly interested in the theoretical existence of multiple universes, Marchant said.
“It’s mind-opening. It makes you confront some big questions in a very challenging but enjoyable way.”
One such question seems simple until it’s taken apart — what is the “dream scenario” for the course of someone’s life? It’s something Marchant and the actors discussed on their first day of rehearsal at the beginning of January.
Essentially it’s the idea that you find someone, fall deeply in love and then that person dies before you so they don’t have to bear the pain of being alone, Marchant said.
“That’s so finite,” he added. “The best-case scenario is my spouse dies before me? I hadn’t thought about it like that. But this play makes you think like that.”
Although “Constellations” takes on some heavy themes, the show isn’t without its humor.
Marchant calls the show “heartwarming” and “challenging” — it gives audiences the opportunity to both laugh and think.
At the same time, while the elusive meaning of time can feel overbearing, the show does not. According to Theatre LILA artistic director Jessica Lanius, “Constellations” does everything but “beat you over the head” with its themes.
It makes you think about all the choices you can make in life and reflect on the fact that every moment counts, she said.
What Lanius especially loves about “Constellations” is its inherent theatricality.
“The openness of it and the theatricality is what I love,” she said, adding that the show allows creative flexibility for the director and two actors. The openness of the show also makes it possible for many types of theaters to produce it.
And produce it they have, even as close as Milwaukee where All In Productions produced the show in mid-January.
Lanius said the show is “very popular” this season and she’s surprised no one has done the show in Madison before.
Something both Lanius and Marchant hope the audiences are able to glean from “Constellations” is the show’s magic realism. Audiences should suspend their disbelief for the duration of the under-90-minute show.
Marchant wants the audience to “meet us halfway with their imagination,” he said.
Moreover he wants to encourage performance choices that engage the audience on a level where they will enjoy meeting the characters within the realm of their imagination.
At the same time, the characters remain starkly human.
These are people who make mistakes; that’s why audiences feel for them and hope they can figure things out, Marchant said.
However “Constellations” affects its audience, it has already affected the Theatre LILA team. Lanius and Marchant agreed that it is the kind of show audiences will want to share with a loved one, one that perhaps is best not to see alone.
Lanius said she has never been so “riveted” by a first read-through before. She couldn’t wait to see where Marchant, Truschinski and San Miguel take the show.
“It’s almost an actor’s dream,” Lanius said of performing “Constellations.” “To get to really sink your teeth into it. It’s like acrobatics of the soul.”