Story: What are the odds that Georgie Burns would kiss Alex Priest, a complete stranger, on the back of the neck at a London train station? When she does exactly that one day, though, it begins a most unlikely relationship.
Georgie is 42 years old, impulsive, open to adventure and not above stretching the truth to create her own fantasy existence. In contrast, the 75-year-old Alex has been a creature of habit throughout his seven-plus decades. As they converse following their abrupt introduction, Alex reveals that he’s never even journeyed outside of London.
He likes to walk, he says, virtually every day. He finds a place to sit and just relax, observing the world around him. Georgie marvels that this homespun philosopher is a butcher by trade and that he still keeps long hours at his shop.
Following their first and rather fitful encounter, Georgie looks up Alex at his butcher shop. With a little coaxing of the annoyed Alex, she keeps the conversation and relationship rolling. She learns about Alex’s eclectic tastes in music, his penchant for dancing and for crying with no apparent reason. Eventually, she speaks about the real painful truths in her own life and bares her vulnerability to this once and future friend.
Theirs is a relationship which moves unexpectedly from a most unusual starting point. They seem to be a living embodiment of the ‘uncertainty principle’ espoused by 20th century theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg. Essentially, Heisenberg stated that “the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa.”
Now that Georgie and Alex have met, they may have a future of limitless possibilities, if time will only cooperate.
Highlights: Just as it opened its 2017-18 Mainstage season with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Rep unveils its current Studio Theatre year with an intriguing work by playwright Simon Stephens. Heisenberg features a superb script, unexpected twists and surprising charm, all captured impeccably by its two performers, Joneal Joplin and Susan Louise O’Connor, under Steven Woolf’s carefully calibrated direction.
Other Info: Werner Heisenberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1932 for his work with quantum mechanics. Stephens extrapolates that physical theory into the human realm by focusing on the “what ifs” which culminate in the relationship between two individuals.
While thousands of people daily wind their way through London’s metro transit system, Stephens establishes that in a particular place in a specific time Georgie and Alex will meet and formulate a relationship in which eventually they express the depths of their respective souls to someone who didn’t exist in their lives moments earlier.
It’s all random, of course, but Stephens ignores the contact which doesn’t happen elsewhere on that train station to accentuate instead these two very different people who turn out to have so much in common.
Stephens’ writing is wonderful, exemplified by a passage quoted by director Woolf in his program notes as Alex informs Georgie about the true value of music: “You can hear it. That’s not listening to it...You need to follow it...Try to predict what will happen next...That’s the secret that nobody knows about music. Music doesn’t exist in the notes. It exists in the space between the notes.”
Stephens gives Alex the lean, meaty parts of his dialogue, brief, succinct answers which get to the point and answer Georgie’s pointed questions quickly and directly. He fills Georgie’s words with feeling and vibrancy, offering an appealing contrast to Alex’s introspection. Clearly, here opposites do attract.
Scenic designers Peter and Margery Spack allow for an open area between the two sides of the audience, with some rudimentary furniture at either end to indicate Alex’s shop or his bedroom, e.g. Screens at either end indicate time and place, all that is needed as backdrop for Joplin and O’Connor to convey their characters’ thoughts and feelings.
Rusty Wandall’s sound design is filled with haunting classical chords, while Nathan Scheuer’s lighting augments the poignancy on stage. Marci Franklin’s costumes nicely delineate the differences in the characters’ ages with wardrobes to indicate their age or their spirits.
Woolf gingerly coaxes natural, buoyant performances from both players in this one-act adventure. Joplin appears at The Rep for the 101st time in his stellar career, although this marks his return to the Studio Theatre for the first time since 1996. O’Connor previously performed at The Rep in God of Carnage in 2011.
The two savvy performers know how to both act and react with aplomb, making their mutual appearance akin to the tango they display late in the show. It’s richly satisfying watching Joplin invest each of Alex’s well-chosen words with truth and simplicity at their most specific level. It’s equally enriching to observe O’Connor demonstrate the exhilaration of Georgie as well as the lingering tragedy that is never far from the troubled school receptionist.
The Rep could probably stage an entire season of Stephens’ works and enrich its audiences with each presentation. As it is, savor the opportunity to check out Heisenberg. There’s no uncertainty as to its nod to the often unexpected joys of life.
Company: Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Venue: Emerson Studio Theatre, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
Dates: Through November 12
Tickets: $45-$69.50; contact 968-4925 or www.repstl.org
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Jon Gitchoff