BWW Review: HEISENBERG at Zach Theatre
HEISENBERG is a one-act play by Simon Stephens (THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME) that observes an unlikely pairing of lovers. Presented in minimalist style, its appeal relies solely upon the engaging performances of its two actors, principally Liz Beckam as Georgie Burns, the story's catalyst.
The inciting incident occurs in the first moment as the play opens with 40-ish Georgie approaching a bench from behind at a London train station and placing a kiss on the neck of a septuagenarian stranger. The stranger is Alexander Priest, a lonely butcher who frequently visits the train station just to pass the time. Georgie launches into a series of monologues by way of explanation and apology that reveal her quirky and impulsive personality. These are punctuated by Alex's occasional, often unintentionally humorous reactions. He distances himself from her, a reaction of his better judgement acquired by age. But, she appears later at his butcher shop, having stalked him via Google, and resumes her plea to continue their improbable relationship. In a moment of revelation, Alex confesses that he just might be falling in love with her.
The success of the entire experience relies upon her. Liz Beckam performs the role marvelously. As Georgie she is hauntingly alluring, even while all sound reason screams that she is not someone to become involved with. She lies about herself, then confesses the lie, then lies again about having lied about the lies, until Alex doesn't know what to believe.
Little seems to be asked of Alex by the story, apart from serving as an everyman-mirror to reflect Georgie's untamed eccentricity, and overcoming the audience's disbelief that he would allow himself to become romantically entangled with her. He remains reserved and emotionless most of the time, and yet experiences moments of weeping for no apparent reason. Of course there is a reason which is never revealed, and the armchair psychologist in me might suggest an archaic emotional tragedy with which he has never dealt. Harvey Guion's Irish accent sounds authentic, a compliment to both his skill and to Dialect Coach Amanda Cooley Davis.
Any problems with this play have nothing to do with the production, or the strength of the talents, but rather the story itself. I wanted a pair of characters to root for, but never found it. In one memorable moment at the butcher shop, Georgie blurts out, "Do you find me exhausting but captivating?" This line serves as a microcosm for the entire script. Perhaps if there were more background into the truthful history of the characters. What is the cause of Alex's underlying melancholy? What epic love affairs has he experienced in his 75-plus years that led him to this recent era of emotional isolation? Who is Georgie, in reality? A waitress? An assassin? Something in between? What series of family events led to her teenage son abandoning her for New Jersey? Whom has she loved and lost, and why? No answers are ever offered, yet would have added depth to the characters and heart to the story.
The title suggests a reference to physicist Werner Heisenburg and his Uncertainty Principle, but neither is overtly mentioned at any time. Alex's one line, "If you watch something closely enough you realize you have no possible way of telling where it's going or how fast it's getting there," is the sole link to the play's title. It seems a weak parallel between the relationship of the characters, and the inevitability of changing a subject merely by observing it.
And then there's the price. Tickets for HEISENBURG range from $38 to $50, and $20 for students, not including $8 for parking at Zach. This a resident production lasting 80 minutes on the smaller Kleberg Stage, with a cast of two, with little set and very few props. There are at least a dozen off-Broadway plays on any given weeknight in the Austin area of at least similar quality but half the price or less, making this one seem less of a bargain.
HEISENBERG produced by Zach Theatre 202 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704 (Riverside Dr. & South Lamar).
Jun. 20 - Jul. 22, 2018 Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets $38-$50. Students $20
Group discounts available for 6 or more.
Tickets 512-476-0541 http://tickets.zachtheatre.org/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=6623