“Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbows? They hold the secret to immortality, so if you could lick them, there’s a chance you’d be able to live forever.”
It’s the top of the play, and Marianne is on one side of the stage while Roland is on the other. She turns to Roland and blurts out the above, immediately breaking the silence with this nonsense about elbows. The line is so out of the blue, that you may even find yourself glancing at your own elbow, wondering what might be possible. This writer invites you to lean in, because what follows over the course of this virtual offering is far from your typical romance.
Theatre Above the Law presents Constellations
Written by Nick Payne and directed by Theatre Above the Law Artistic Director Tony Lawry, Constellations follows the romantic journey between Marianne (Melanie McNulty) and Roland (Ross Compton). While the play may cover the major points of the relationship from start to finish, the story is far from linear. Payne’s piece jumps across time and universe, exploring every possibility. Some scenes repeat multiple times with minor changes, showcasing how those alterations could impact entire outcomes.
Payne’s script is full of twists and turns that take us on a thought-provoking roller coaster of a ride. Payne not only invites the audience to question which path is real, but also if that even matters.
The first scene begins with this question about the ability to lick one’s elbow. That scene alone repeats six times, and covers a whole range of outcomes. While Marianne’s first attempt at breaking the ice ends with Roland admitting that he is in a relationship, another ends with Roland’s confession that he is married. One simply ends abruptly, and another take leads to a larger conversation – the one for which romance fans in the audience have been anxiously awaiting.
The jumping between various forms of the same scene may be jarring at first, but in this writer’s view, that is all part of the fun of the storytelling. A mystery starts to form as you wonder what will happen next, or what conclusion could possibly be in store for this couple.
Lawry keeps the stage design simple –completely bare except for one picnic table. Each scene features the actors using the space in a slightly different manner. Every new attempt at an interaction begins with a re-start of a blackout, allowing the actors to find a new position with their new line. This technique aids the storytelling, creating a vocabulary that might help you if you are feeling lost in sequence of events.
Something Virtually New
The pandemic has forced theater-makers to re-imagine how to share this art form that wants to be in-person. We continue to play around with Zoom and other streaming services, but Theatre Above the Law has taken a different path. As Lawry explains in his pre-show speech, every safety precaution was considered in producing this show with actors in the same space. If you are like this writer and miss seeing theater in-person, you might agree that this production offers a refreshing option as we watch two characters fall in love on the same stage.
Marianne… Melanie McNulty
Roland… Ross Compton
Director… Tony Lawry
Stage Manager/Lighting Designer… Stina Taylor
Video… Max Zuckert
Sound… George Pitsilos/William Schnieder
Streaming through February 28, 2021
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sunday, February 28th at 3pm
Online via video link.
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
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