Theater review: ‘Constellations’ at 35below

IN THE STARS: Jon Stockdale and Melon Wedick explore a multiverse of lives together in Constellations.
IN THE STARS: Jon Stockdale and Melon Wedick explore a multiverse of lives together in Constellations. Photo by William Z Lawrence

What if there are multiple universes where infinitely possible timelines of our lives unfold? Constellations by Nick Payne ponders this theory. It examines a dizzying series of events in the lives of two young British strangers who meet at a barbecue. They chase each other through ups and downs, infidelities, crossroads, marriage proposals and encounters with mortality. The show is onstage at Asheville Community Theatre’s 35below through Sunday, June 18.

Jason Williams directs a dynamic duo — Jon Stockdale and Melon Wedick — who take on the labyrinthine script. Williams keeps it simple, allowing the actors to carry the show without set pieces and only scant props. Williams is known for his technical prowess and has designed a large backdrop of an expansive starscape. Above the stage, strings of lights are attached to Mason jars that change color as the scenes and moods shift. The intimate and simple space allows for an emotionally raw performance.

Stockdale plays Roland, a nebbish beekeeper. Meanwhile, Wedick’s Marianne works in quantum science, exploring the vast universe from a molecular level. It is her assertion that perhaps there is a multiverse of infinite realities for them. She also suggests that, if you can lick the tip of your elbow, you might achieve immortality. This gives the show an indelible, quirky charm that carries throughout the myriad journeys the characters take.

Variations of Roland and Marianne’s meeting and many other threads play out in front of the audience. With a subtle shift, the characters return to previous points in the conversations, but with different intentions and understandings leading to new directions. Some connections are sweet, some are bitter. Misunderstandings compound, love grows, challenges arise. At one point, the actors play a full exchange using only sign language (thanks to Cary Nichols, who consulted on the show for that sequence).

Stockdale and Wedick are to be commended for their sharp focus. Many of their conversations are nearly identical, save tiny alterations. From the onset, they launch half a dozen different storylines, all of which they come back to and carry forward. They perform the same sequence multiple times before moving onto the natural continuations of those scenes. When major trauma enters their lives, we spend a bit more time getting drawn into it — and it is incredibly absorbing.

What could be a pretentious theatrical exercise becomes very human and profound. We find ourselves eager to revisit certain threads of the show to see how they progress in one reality versus another. This is delicate work, and both actors handle it with surgical deftness.

Alternately charming and funny, the show also wrenches the heart and evokes more than a few tears from the audience.

WHAT: Constellations
WHERE: 35below, 35 Walnut St., ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, June 18. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. $15

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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