Arts & Leisure

‘Constellations’ brings stars to Middlebury

ACTORS GRACE EXPERIENCE and Stephen Shore pose amid the beehives in Charlie Mraz’s backyard in Middlebury. The duo will perform in Middlebury Acting Company’s first live performance since the pandemic hit. “Constellations” comes to the outdoor stage on the Swift House grounds in Middlebury on Aug. 12-15. Photo by Peter Lourie

Slowly, slowly, the stars are beginning to align. We’re emerging from this pandemic with some trepidation — nod to the Delta variant — but nonetheless, press forward. Masks on, masks off… masks on again? Let’s do whatever it takes to hold onto the live performances we lost last year. 

Speaking of which, the Middlebury Acting Company is preparing its first live performance, Aug. 12-15, under a tent on the grounds of the Swift House in Middlebury. 

The play? “Constellations,” written by Nick Payne and directed by Melissa Lourie, starring New York actors Grace Experience and her real-life boyfriend Stephen Shore.

The plot? Marianne and Roland meet by chance at a friend’s cookout in England. Roland is a beekeeper, Marianne studies quantum cosmology. Sparks fly. What happens next defies the boundaries of the world we think we know — delving into the infinite possibilities of their relationship and raising questions about the difference between choice and destiny.

A Broadway hit in 2015, this tender gem of a play is sparked by theoretical physics, but plunges deep into the heart of human experience. 

“During the pandemic I’ve been reading a bunch of plays,” said Experience, daughter of local author Chris Bohjalian and fine art photographer Victoria Blewer. “When I read ‘Constellations’ it was perfect…It’s multiverse theory — I mean haven’t you had moments during this pandemic when you wanted to be in another universe? So I said we have to do this play… And we have to do this with Melissa.”

Experience and Lourie’s relationship developed back in the fall of 2018, when Experience starred as the governess in MACo’s production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s “The Turn of the Screw.”

“I adore working with Melissa,” said Experience, adding that the intimate venue works well for both the production as well as pandemic precautions.

Experience brought her boyfriend home to her parents’ house in Weybridge a couple weeks ago, where they’ll stay through the performances. 

“Rehearsal is going great,” said Lourie on Tuesday. “Grace and Stephen are just fantastic… They have been amazingly well prepared.”

Lourie explained that the script is extremely challenging because each scene has different permutations, which makes it easy to get confused as the actor. Luckily, Experience and Shore are committed to their acting professions and have developed a few tricks to memorize the lines.

“We both record ourselves reading our lines,” Experience explained. “Then listen to them over and over again.”

“I write it out like a jigsaw puzzle,” added Shore, who comes from Chapel Hill, N.C. “I’ll write the cue line and then the first letter of each work in my line… it’s time consuming, but it works.”

All together the duo only has two and a half weeks to work with Lourie to put together this 70-minute play. 

“We’re getting a whole lot done really fast,” Shore said. 

It doesn’t hurt that the couple is in fact a real couple and, yes, they do rehearse at home.

“Stephen is an incredibly good scene partner,” said Experience, who met Shore at Heartwood Regional Theater in Maine back in 2014. “There’s a huge level of trust when you do a performance with just one other person.”

“The fact that they’re intimate partners means we can do deep — emotionally,” Lourie said. “And because they are so well prepared we can try all these different things.”

No effort is lost in this trio.

“There’s even a scene that uses sign language,” Shore and Experience explained. “It’s another part of the universe where they sign to each other… if done well, it could be a gorgeous scene.”

Shore and Experience are both looking forward to the intimacy of the venue too. 

“You can’t lie, you have to be completely truthful,” Experience said. “You will see it on the faces in the audience a couple feet away from you. It’s terrifying, and exhilarating.”

“It definitely allows for more intimate moments,” echoed Shore. “You can see their eye balls.”

“This play is for everyone,” Lourie said. “Intellectually ‘Constellations’ is very stimulating, but it is also very emotional and simple… It’s really visceral, but the ideas that it brings up are profound and challenge us.”

So what do you say? Wanna count your lucky stars and come out to enjoy some live theater? Find tickets for “Constellations” on the Town Hall Theater’s website, townhalltheater.org, or call 802-388-1436. To make it a full evening, order a picnic dinner from the Swift House by calling 802-388-9925. 

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