Jessie Fisher and Jon Michael Hill pursue happiness across the multiverse in Nick Payne’s affecting two-hander.
Jon Michael Hill and Jessie Fisher are the bright stars of Nick Payne’s play, winking in and out of infinite iterations of their characters’ relationship. We see Marianne (Fisher), a theoretical physicist, and Roland (Hill), a beekeeper, meet at a barbecue in an opening scene that instantly resets itself to reflect a half-dozen ways it could play out. From there, we see the pair progressing through a courtship that’s on-again in some worlds, off-again in others. But it’s not long into these stuttering scenes (expertly staged by Jonathan Berry, making a long overdue Steppenwolf mainstage debut) that the young British playwright foreshadows a potential ultimate end.
Payne tends to mine the intersection of science and sentiment; in If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, directed by Berry two years ago at Steep Theatre, climate change became a metaphor for an unhappy teenager and her closed-off parents, while his Incognito, currently playing at New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club, deals with neuroscience and identity.
In Constellations, it’s Marianne’s work in quantum theory and Roland’s study of roles in hive society that provide a frame for the endless permutations of the couple, movingly played out by Fisher and Hill, who never leave Joe Schermoly’s limboesque gray slate of a set. The individual points begin to form a larger shape: the way a relationship can leave us changed for good, no matter when or how it comes to an end.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company. By Nick Payne. Directed by Jonathan Berry. With Jon Michael Hill, Jessie Fisher. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission.