Pro Choice

Two new plays examine faith and science

We make thousands of decisions every day, never knowing when a seemingly innocuous choice—grabbing coffee at Starbucks (where the future love of our life is standing in line) or Peet’s (where a runaway car is about to crash through the door)—could have life-changing repercussions.

Speaking of choices . . . Right now, at two different theaters, a pair of superbly crafted, deeply humane, brain-twisty shows has opened, each examining the head-spinning flexibility of fate, and each staged and performed by artists working at the top of their game: Craig Wright’s Grace at Main Stage West in Sebastopol (directed by John Craven); and Nick Payne’s Constellations (Juilet Noonan, director) in the Studio at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa.

In Craig Wright’s Grace, the show begins in the aftermath of a shocking act of unpremeditated gun violence. The story then rewinds (more or less literally) to 45 days earlier, as we witness the decisions and mistakes, large and small, made by a financially tenuous born-again couple (Ilana Niernberger and John Browning), their agnostic scientist next-door neighbor (Sam Coughlin) and an irascible German pest exterminator (John Craven), who keeps showing up to spray for bugs.

Highly intelligent and cleverly designed (with kudos to sound engineer Doug Faxon and light designer Missy Weaver), Grace is a show that hangs out in your mind and heart long after the final shot has stopped ringing in our ears.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★

The same could be said (without the guns) of Constellations. Staged in the round, as a smart, breezy, 75-minute theatrical dance of words and ideas, the play follows a physicist (Melissa Claire) and an organic beekeeper (Jared Wright) through a series of overlapping, slightly varied scenarios. They meet, they don’t meet, they have a terrible first date, they have a great first date, they break up, they stay together, and on and on. Every choice sets in motion a series of alternative conclusions.

Beautifully acted, movingly staged, Constellations also lingers long after, as we are forced to contemplate all the possibilities that might have been, had we only made a different choice. ★★★★