Constellations at first appears to be a complex, cerebral drama. British playwright Nick Payne’s two-hander about a theoretical physicist and a beekeeper in love doesn’t immediately scream “must-see,” but there’s something about this play that’s almost magical. It first appeared on Broadway in early 2015, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, and closed after three months. In that time it racked up Tony and Drama Desk nominations. The New York Times called it “gorgeous” and “fugue-like.”
Opening this week at the Wyly Theatre, Constellations plays to a new crowd, in a new time and place. The Dallas Theater Center production, which imagines infinite universes, scenarios and outcomes to our lives, is being helmed by two of Dallas’ finest actors: Arlington native Allison Pistorius and DTC Brierley Resident Acting Company member Alex Organ. Organ and Pistorius had never seen the play, but Pistorius says it’s now one of her favorites.
Constellations seems almost unapproachable at first. "Constellations shows us two perspectives on time: the vast and the intimate, the universe and the hive, the cosmos and the bee," director Wendy Dann says. "These two perspectives and people collide, fall in love, divide, reunite and marry in multiple universes."
Simple, right? Organ and Pistorius say it’s not really a story about math and science and all that high-brow stuff, though. It’s a love story. “[It's about] a very simple relationship between two humans,” Pistorius says. Organ says no one should feel intimidated by the play. "It’s a traditional love story, but the surrounding structure is very complex," he says. "I don’t think anyone would walk away from this saying it was over their head." Pistorius says that best of all, it has surprises in store that will keep the audience from saying, “Oh, I’ve seen this one. I know how it ends.”
The play harnesses the idea of a “multiverse,” where we're surrounded by other dimensions and there is an infinite number of parallel universes in which we all exist but have made different choices. “Every choice you’ve ever made, and every possible choice you could have made exist in a universe around us,” says Organ, adding that he finds this beautiful and lovely.
Organ, who has an MFA from Yale, says Constellations has posed a lot of exciting challenges that he’s never faced before as an actor. Because the scenes take place across different universes, in each one his character has grown in reaction to different experiences and is essentially a new person. “As an actor, do we have to go back and create backstories for all of these people?” he asks. "What we’ve come to is that there is a ‘spine’ of the character that remains the same, things about us that are constant, but little limbs are attached throughout the play.” They both say this idea has been an invaluable tool to play with. “To ask questions and get an infinite number of answers is a really interesting thing,” Pistorius says.
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Both actors are married to other actors. To play two people so deeply in love seems a little scary, but to them it's old hat. They're both well-trained and apply a scientific method of sorts to their onstage romance. “There’s a part of your brain that is so focused on this story, this person," Pistorius says. "It doesn’t negate the real parts of your life, but those parts aren’t getting the focus at that point."
Organ says he considers the stage a “fenced-in area” where there are no rules. “We give ourselves permission to do whatever the job requires,” he says. They both say the trust they have built with each other has made the job easy and the experience has moved them in ways they didn’t expect.
This week Dallas Theater Center is kicking off its season with a smart script, and Organ and Pistorius are running with it to create an infinite number of worlds within the Wyly Theatre. Far from dredging up regret, the resulting story is meant to encourage meaningful reflection on how we choose to spend our short lives.
Constellations runs at the Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St., through Oct. 9. Find tickets, beginning at $20, and more info at dallastheatercenter.org.