Theater Review: Beekeeper and physicist attempt true love

Maren Langdon Spillane is Marianne and Dominic Spillane, Roland, in Nick Payne’s “Constellations” at Phantom Theatre in Warren. It comes to Montpelier Sept. 7 and 8. (Photo by Adam Silverman)

WARREN – Falling in love isn’t awkward only for nerds, but it can be especially so. Imagine a love story involving a university academic specializing in “theoretical early universe cosmology” and a beekeeper.  And then imagine it told through the lens of the physics maxim, “every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes,” and you have Nick Payne’s “Constellations.” But you needn’t understand anything about physics to enjoy this delightful and unique romance, as told by area professional theater folk Friday at the rural Phantom Theater (also known as the Edgcomb Barn). What initially appears to be a theater exercise between two actors on a nearly bare stage soon reveals itself as an intimately told story of love found, love lost, love found again, and deep love achieved – with all the comedy and tragedy of the real thing. Marianne (the physicist) and Roland (the beekeeper) meet at a mutual friend’s barbecue. Immediately attracted, they dance around what each sees as the “norm” of seduction – quite different in each case – adding to the awkwardness of an already awkward situation. And it’s told through minute vignettes, separated by flashes, in which their different and changing inner thoughts are represented. It takes a moment to get used to but, after a few, the rhythm begins to feel natural and the storytelling becomes riveting. Marianne and Roland never recover from their nearly defeating self-consciousness – familiar to most of us – as they enjoy the enthusiasm of new love, face the heartbreak of infidelity, and finally realize their value to each other. Their process of revealing themselves from every angle, inside and out, gives the story a sense of reality that is both entertaining and deeply satisfying. And that pretty much describes Friday’s performance at Phantom Theater. (It closed after Saturday’s performance and moves on to the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier Sept. 7 and 8.) Maren Langdon Spillane and Dominic Spillane, a couple of New York transplanted professional actors, certainly gave Marianne and Roland, respectively, the intimacy that makes this play effective. Maren gave Marianne the nervous stiffness of an academic out of her comfort zone, blurting out what she thought was expected of her. Dominic imbued Roland with a natural feeling of inferiority in the face of suspected higher intellect, winning over with his Boy Scout genuineness. Both actors also reflected their characters with their tentative physicality. Save for some of overuse of “hand expressiveness” – not referring to the short Sign Language scene – the characters were delivered with an unusual completeness. “Constellations” achieved a seeming simplicity and straightforwardness thanks to the effective direction and choreography of Joanne Greenberg. It was no mean feat maintaining all the through lines through the unexpected twists and turns. Greenberg has been developing an impressive presence in Vermont theater, both professional and community, since completing 30 years of teaching theater at U-32 High School in East Montpelier. (She has also been instrumental in raising the level of Rutland’s Vermont Actors’ Repertory Theatre.) “Constellations” proved refreshingly unexpected, reflecting both human love and love of theater.   Open Door Theater Open Door Theater presents Nick Payne’s “Constellations,” directed by Joanne Greenberg, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 7 and 8, at Noble Hall Reading Room, Vermont College of Fine Arts, 36 College St. in Montpelier. For tickets or information, email opendoortheatervt@gmail.com.

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