By Manning Harris

Horizon Theatre is presenting British playwright Nick Payne’s “Constellations,” a two-character 85 minute play, directed by Justin Anderson, running through Feb. 26.

Mr. Anderson is one of Atlanta’s finest and most versatile directors, equally at home with smash musicals (Aurora and Theatrical Outfit’s “In the Heights”) and comedy/dramas such as Horizon’s “The City of Conversation,” both multiple Suzi Award winners last season.

Concerning “Constellations,” how are you with quantum physics these days? We are presented with a British couple named Roland (Enoch King) and Marianne (Bethany Irby). Roland is a very likable beekeeper based in the country; Marianne is a Cambridge University academic specializing in “theoretical early universe cosmology.” But she’s not some fearsome pedant; like Roland, she’s quite charming and unpretentious.

There’s an expression in vogue just now in the theatre and film worlds: “meet cute”; it’s usually applied when boy meets girl in a delightful or unexpected way. Marianne and Roland meet cute. Then they meet again. Then they meet again.

No, I haven’t gone crazy (though I could be close, keep reading). In the “quantum multiverse,” explains Marianne, “every decision you’ve ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.” In other words, as director Anderson comments, we’re living in a life filled with “what ifs.” As Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

So we can talk about how “Constellations” uses the principles of string theory, relativity, and quantum mechanics (and lose half our audience, including me); or we can simply ask, as the ever-reliable Mr. Anderson does, “How much of my life is governed by choice and how much is shaped by chance?”

Please bear in mind that despite our erudite ruminations, “Constellations” is a very pleasant, exceedingly gentle romantic comedy. It is heavily dependent on the talent and charm of its two stars (in the constellation, get it?); and here we are blessed indeed by the presence of Bethany Irby and Enoch King. It’s especially nice to see Mr. King as a romantic lead; he’s also an uproariously gifted comic actor (“The Santaland Diaries) or strong character actor (Actor’s Express’ “Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet.”)

I understand Ms. Irby has been abroad a number of years; it’s good to have her grace and charm back in the Atlanta theatrical scene.

Those wizards of scenic design, Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, have placed Roland and Marianne in a spot shimmering in the cosmos, surrounded by unearthly lights. The talented Bobby Johnston, perhaps more known for his award-winning sound design, is projections designer here. The sound is handled nimbly by Rob Brooksher; the lighting by Mary Parker.

We are, however, left with the incontrovertible fact that all this repetition of lines and vignettes becomes monotonous. To be a bit crass about it, once we’re hip to the playwright’s schtick , the play ceases to be very dramatically compelling. Despite Mr. Anderson’s directorial dexterity and inventiveness, we are stuck with the script we have.

I think this play benefits by the presence of major stars (Jake Gyllenhaal played it on Broadway); that’s just the reality of live theatre; when I saw a so-so play a called “Three Days of Rain” in New York several years ago, my interest was peaked by the presence of Julia Roberts in the cast.

This takes nothing away from the charm of Mr. King and Ms. Irby, as they beautifully demonstrate for us how tricky this thing called communication is.

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Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.