Play Review: Constellations

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I really enjoyed this profound and stimulating play. It only has two characters. The man is a beekeeper. and the woman is a theoretical physicist. Nick Payne, the playwright who wrote this play, toys with cutting-edge ideas in physics that suggest that there is more than one universe. All the possible decisions we can make actually exist in all these parallel universes. The play illustrates this multiplicity. We kept getting scenes that show possible scenarios involving the interaction between this couple. Do they end up getting married? Or, do they meet only to drift apart and never see each other again? Does the woman dies in a state of mental decline? Is there a vicious breakup as a result of infidelity?

The woman, who is able to articulate difficult concepts from physics, eventually receives a diagnosis of cancer. In one scenario, the cancer is benign and the doctor predicts an easy recovery. In another scenario, though, she only has a couple weeks to live and she opts for euthanasia in order to avoid the suffering. Her husband objects, saying that the two weeks are valuable and worth the suffering that they might involve. The woman disagrees. She says that time is not asymmetrical, but symmetrical. In other words, time is not like an arrow where there is a continual accumulation of past time and an ever-dwindling amount of future time. The play ends with the woman telling her husband that time never diminishes–even if she is near death, the couple never had any more or less time.

Another profound moment comes when the man proposes. He gives this cute speech about bees. He says that all bees have a sense of purpose–they have a role, whether it is to be a drone, queen, etc. But, humans have role ambiguity, in that we never really understand why we are here. Interestingly, bees are the only nonvertebrates capable of symbolic communication.

 

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