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Stars Shine in Butler Little Theatre’s ‘Constellations’

Review
Casey Bowser, left, and Megan Flannery are the lead actors in Butler Little Theatre's production of "Constellations," which has showings Thursday through Saturday. Submitted Photo

The concept of the multiverse has moved from obscure scientific theories to pop-culture fodder in the past decade or so. Director Brooke Echnat takes on what these different worlds might mean for free will and love in Butler Little Theatre’s latest show, “Constellations,” by Nick Payne.

BLT is a stalwart of regional theater and its attempt at bringing an experimental show to the area is a brave and commendable risk.

The audience is forced to learn quickly, as the nonlinear plot sets them off-kilter as the story bounces between different versions of Cambridge physicist Marianne (Megan Flannery) and beekeeper Roland (Casey Bowser). The audience sees them first in a standard romantic-comedy meet-cute scene; that scene and others are replayed over and over again in a game of “what-ifs” where the rules revolve around the most human experiences: life, death, love and grief.

The weight of the show’s success rides on the actors’ shoulders. The set, lighting and blocking are extremely simple. Yet, Bowser and Flannery make the most of a difficult show by working hard to embody subtly different characteristics in their roles as we leap from reality to reality with them.

The work put in by these actors must have been grueling as they move from storyline to storyline, without intermission or break, repeating scene after scene with only changes in intonation and body language to represent different universes. A single misstep on their part or a dropped line without the comfort of a traditional plot through line would leave the audience wondering and confused. Both Bowser and Flannery prove themselves as performers willing and able to sell a difficult idea with strong performances.

The experience of an hour-plus of nonlinear narrative with only two characters, an almost bare stage and no intermission can make keeping an audience’s interest challenging. But once the audience relaxes and catches the rhythm of the show, they can begin to understand that, narrative tricks aside, the plot has more of a debt to melodramas like the 1970s film “Love Story” than to esoteric string theory.

However, the performers are able to push the play beyond what could be a simple tear-jerker into a meditation on free will and predetermination as they embody Marianne’s view, that time doesn’t pass in a straight line and that there is nothing new under the sun.

“Constellations” takes the stage at the Butler Little Theatre through Saturday, Feb. 24. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets can be purchased at butlerlittletheatre.com. “Constellations” runs about 75 minutes without an intermission. The show contains adult language and situations, including discussions of suicide.

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