When we spoke to director Robert Benedetti about Heisenberg a few weeks ago, he said thatamong the reasons he chose the show was that it was light-hearted. He wanted tobalance out the heaviness of his last show, Quality of Life, and end the NewMexico Actors Lab season on a buoyant note. Imagine SFR's surprise, then, when—despitemany hearty laughs—we were left deeply unsettled by Heisenberg. This is notnecessarily a bad thing, but certainly not what we were expecting.
Heisenberg follows Georgie, a 42-year-old American womanliving in London, as she relentlessly and amorously pursues Alex, a 75-year-oldnative Londoner. Georgie, here played by an appropriately awkward DebriannaMansini, is a quintessential American hot mess with more than a smattering ofsociopathic tendencies. Alex, brought to life by Jonathan Richards, is abutcher in the twilight of his life, living an existence of quiet desperation.Until Georgie shows up, that is. Then that desperation gets a little louder.
The descriptions we'd read of this show were that it wasabout an intergenerational relationship. Of course, "relationship" is amalleable term, but we were ready to see a story about two people who wereestablished in their love for each other, working life out bit by bit. What wegot instead was an explosion of a brand-new courtship (by the end of the play,the two have only known each other six weeks) and a long, hard look at whodeserves love, and how much love they should then be allotted.
While the word-vomit-prone Georgie dominates the script (inthe first two-thirds of the play she probably has 85 percent of the lines) and couldget viewers uncomfortable enough to feign a bathroom break, it is Alex's calmdemeanor that keeps the audience in their seats. Richards, as Alex, is trulyfantastic. His face is kind and patient, and his matter-of-fact tone is perfectfor the blue-collar butcher as he is romantically accosted by a woman nearlyhalf his age.
Mansini's Georgie is insufferable and exhausting. And we don'tmean that as a criticism—that is precisely how she is written—though we do, asthe play progresses, wonder a bit what Alex could possibly see in her; a womanwho admits to compulsively lying and overshares until we cringe. Still, Georgie'sJulia Roberts-level smile lights up the stage, and when she finally gets Alexto open up about himself, she actually shuts up and listens for once.
In the beginning, we suspect Georgie is projecting supposedlyfascinating qualities onto Alex. Until he really blossoms in the third scene,each of the characters are equally unappealing (Georgie because she won't shutup, Alex because he won't talk). Alex has no interest in discussing esotericthings (on feelings: "I feel my clothes. I feel the wind on my face. I don'tfeel. I fucking think.") and Georgie, while awkward and sometimes lackingconfidence, also fancies her flaws charming (she actually does blurt out, "Do youfind me exhausting but captivating?"—Alex simply stares at her in response).
As the show moves, however, the projection flips. Georgieseems completely shocked when, at dinner, she learns that Alex is indeed asinteresting as she wants him to be. We suspect, by the end, that Alex isprojecting his kindness and genuine goodness onto an undeserving Georgie.
There's an illuminating confession from Georgie in thefourth scene that took us by absolute surprise, so it's hard to discuss theintricacies of the couple's later interactions without rampant spoilers, but weare indeed left feeling pity for both characters. They each so badly want theother to be what they need, and we aren't sure, in the end, whether or not theyget what they want.
While having a post-coital listen to Bach on vinyl, Alextells Georgie: "Music doesn't exist in the notes. It exists in the space betweenthe notes." It's a lesson we think the character of Georgie could bear to learn(read: shut the fuck up already), and one that Alex could bear to forget (read: speak up already).
The play, written by Simon Stephens, is fresh off Broadway(Benedetti told us he essentially badgered the rights-holders until he gotpermission to put it on). The intricacies of the dance between thesecharacters, both in wordplay and in a literal tango, will undoubtedly mark thisshow as a classic to be performed for many years, and tangential references toscientific principles will keep even the particle physicists entertained. (Apersonal preference made this writer recoil a bit at the very end, but perhaps somefolks just have a strong aversion to sentimentality.)
In the end, we don't know if either Georgie or Alex got whatthey were looking for—but we certainly did. We left unnerved, thoughtful andjust a little bit sad; and isn't that the point of the theater?