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What are the chances of finding love? 'Constellations' explores the infinite possibilities

by Darby Maloney and Monica Bushman | The Frame

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Ginnifer Goodwin and Allen Leech star in "Constellations." Geffen Playhouse

The play, “Constellations,” tells the story of a quantum physicist named Marianne and a beekeeper named Roland.

They meet and meet again, fall in-and-out and in-and-out of love, and their paths cross over and over again. 

Written by Nick Payne, the play is inspired by physics and string theory and it alternates between multiple realities. 

The production at the Geffen Playhouse is directed by Giovanna Sardelli and stars Ginnifer Goodwin, from ABC’s "Once Upon a Time," and Allen Leech, probably best known as the Irish chauffeur Branson from the British series "Downton Abbey."

Both actors got their starts working in theater and when they spoke recently with The Frame's John Horn, they explained why they were so eager to jump into this rigorous production:

Interview highlights:

On the pull to get back to theater and to do "Constellations" in particular

Ginnifer Goodwin: Theater's home for a lot of us who are in film and TV these days. I was homesick for it. I wanted a different kind of challenge and a different kind of ass-kicking than I feel that I get on a film or TV set, where I frankly feel I can get very lazy. And as far as "Constellations," the first time I read it, I couldn't even get through it without sort of losing it emotionally because I found it so powerful. And then when I could, I took a step back and I realized one of my favorite things about it is that it's manipulative and it made me believe that I was imagining a linear love story. And I truly had to step out of it to remember that the story is actually told in string theory. And that every scene is a different possibility, every scene backs up and starts again and goes in a new direction. And I love being manipulated.
 
Allen Leech: I started in theater at the age of 15. It was my first professional job, so getting the opportunity to go back to that at any point I always jump at. And I'd seen this play at the Royal Court in its very first outing and I was absolutely blown away by the kind of innovative way of storytelling, the fact that it wasn't linear, the fact that you got to see this couple fall in love again and again in so many different ways, and the fact that there was a tragic element but it ends in such hope — I absolutely was blown away by it.

On keeping track of the math of the play and all the alternative ways that the scenes play out:

Leech: We all turned to Professor Goodwin within the rehearsal room because she seems to be the physics expert and the woman, in relation to string theory, that had some kind of understanding. Within the scenes and trying to get some kind of linear line for each character within this scenario, we realized there was no real direct path. We had what we call the "A+ run," so within each version of the vignettes that you see, be it at the barbecue where they meet or at the ballroom, we had the "A+ run" where we felt that was the best chance they had to go forward into the next part of their existence together. 

Goodwin: I feel like a disclaimer is that ... these scenes can't be different for the sake of being different. The idea of string theory is that everything that can and cannot happen, anything that could or could not be even imagined, exists and that's where choice comes. That being said ... I do wonder if certain possibilities are more likely if there is some kind of gravitational force that pulls together certain possibilities, like the chances of Roland and Marianne ending up together, because in our conscious reality they do. So in our not wanting to make scenes different for the sake of being different, we did have to create our characters, even if they change a bit from path-to-path, there is still something inherent in each of them that is the same in most cases, in most of our vignettes. And so we also didn't have to bog ourselves down with the math of possibility. I think that could be kind of overwhelming.

On what the play says about fate and religion and the larger forces that shape our lives:

Leech: I'm always amazed at the amount of people who come up to us when we come out of the theater who say that the play gives them a lot of hope, especially if they lost anyone. That they love the idea that somewhere out there that person still exists. And there's a lovely line in the play that says, "You'll still have all our time, even once I'm gone." That's a lovely sentiment within the play. So I think the play has a lot of hope. But it does throw up a lot of ideas about our own existence.
 
We had a lot of in-depth conversations that [director Giovanna Sardelli] always wanted us to move into the rehearsal space ... rather than sit around and talking about it, can we start rehearsals and try out these ideas? And that was our own version of string theory, where we kept trying things and failing and trying until we found one that worked. So I think the rehearsal room for us was our own string theory.

"Constellations" is at the Geffen Playhouse through July 23.

 

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