What happens when a quirky, middle-aged, motor-mouthed American woman and an equally uptight, pursed-lipped Irishman meet in a London train station? In Heisenberg, playwright Simon Stephens offers a touching look into the intersecting lives of two opposites in search of happiness that neither one is sure exists.
The tiny theater stage is minimally dressed; a modest black-and-white painting in the background suggests the London skyline. An elderly butcher, Alex Priest (Robert Ives) sits alone, blue earphones in his ears. When Georgie Burns (Debra Hull) enters, her sprightly demeanor immediately suggests an attraction. She waltzes over and kisses his neck. The rest of the scene, and the one following, works to flesh out the two’s idiosyncrasies. Georgie is exhausting, daunting, but admittedly charming. Alex is an ice cube with a hint of repressed warmth at his core.
Against the odds, Georgie breaks through his ice and the two develop a friendship that soon escalates to a budding romance. As they divulge their deepest secrets and desires to each other one night, we find that each of them has suffered a tragic loss in their own ways. Yet the more they learn about each other, the more fragile their relationship becomes until it reaches a point where the happiness they each seek is at risk of slipping through their fingers.
Both Hull and Ives deliver their characters with their own individual passions. Their personalities entwine and bounce off of each other like a naturally executed tango. They guide the audience through all the emotions they experience: awkwardness, possibility, quiet bliss, hurt, acceptance. Director Julie Robertson asks “what is more convoluted and involved than human emotions?” She certainly succeeded in portraying them accurately and with the proper care here. The play’s title itself is a reference to the ambiguity of human feelings, recalling German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: the location and momentum of all things in the universe cannot be truly pinpointed.
Minimal theater may not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, the lack of simple props in some scenes may even be a distraction for some. But for a play like this, the minimalism helps keep the spotlight on the impassioned human emotions that drive the characters and their story. I applaud the actors who only have themselves to rely on, without missing a beat. Like spying on someone on the other side of the world, you feel like you’ve witnessed something profound but too far and fleeting to be sure where it’s headed.
If you go:
Where: Restless Artists Theater, 295 20th St, Sparks, NV 89431
When: Dec. 14, 15, 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 17 at 2 p.m.