The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time playwright Simon Stephens’s two-person play, Heisenberg, is far from your typical love story. When Georgie (Rachel Zampelli), a 40ish American expat first blusters on to the track of a London train station—hair wild about her, overstuffed bag slung casually over disheveled jean shirt—she is halted in her tracks at the sight of Alex (Michael Russotto), a 75-year-old, white-haired, immaculately-pressed man. Unnoticed by him, Georgie stealthily observes Alex from multiple angles before sneaking up behind him to plant an intimate kiss at the nape of his neck.
When Alex wheels around in shock, it is instantly clear that the two are strangers and this is not your typical “meet cute.” As Georgie unloads a succession of paradoxical explanations (she mistook Alex for her husband, who in fact died 18 months prior?) something is immediately, unsettlingly, off. Was this an innocent mistake, or is Alex her unwitting mark?
Director Joe Calarco keeps the audience guessing. True to the familiar romantic comedy recipe, Georgie and Alex’s relationship is a case of “opposites attracting.” Yet, from the outset, Calarco pushes the boundaries of this well-worn cliché to a more physical level, juxtaposing motion and stasis; reckless abandon and self-restraint.
Zampelli’s Georgie is a bundle of nervous, spontaneous energy; a woman in a constant, frenetic, state of motion. Sweeping about the stage like a cartoon Tasmanian devil, Georgie’s brazenness and forced air of confidence is belied by a string of subtle nervous ticks—tugging at her clothes and hair, repeatedly snapping a rubber band around her wrist and clutching her bag against her body. “Do you find me exhausting but captivating?” she asks Alex. We do.
Lacking any filter, Georgie embarks on a series of (impressively rendered) rants, blurting out increasingly intimate details of her life to Alex, interspersed with self-deprecating barbs. At once endearing and unnerving, Alex is left to wonder this woman—who is actively pursuing, if not stalking, him—is merely quirky or genuinely unhinged.
Russotto provides a stark counterpoint in his portrayal of Alex. The consummate European gentleman, his every physical movement is restrained, his emotions carefully measured. Yet Russotto never allows Alex to be stiff or closed off. A man of few words, Russotto’s Alex exudes warmth while tapping into a deep undercurrent of hunger for human connection.
closes November 11, 2018
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Pamela Weiner’s ingeniously simplistic set design—a single red rectangle floor furnished only with two modular blocks that transform from bench, to bed to butcher store table top—reinforce the sense that Georgie and Alex have somehow been thrust together in a confined space they must endeavor to share. Even after the initial shock of the stolen kiss wears off, Alex continues to eye Georgie with a bemused wariness, as if encountering a wild animal loosed from its cage. In his first encounters with Georgie, Alex retreats to the edges and corners of the stage. As the two come to know each other more intimately, the action draws center stage.
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Andrew Cissna’s lighting design, comprised of a single block of lights directly above center stage is elegantly effective, at times emitting a bright flash like that of a camera capturing a particular moment, at others twinkling like stars above the lovers’ heads.
Yes, (spoiler alert) there is love between Georgie and Alex, and sex besides (which, despite the cringe-worthy age gap, was tenderly funny, awkward, and utterly believable). But, thankfully, Stephens hasn’t merely rehashed the well-worn tropes of love overcoming the obstacles of age, or lovers destined to find each other against the odds.
Instead, as Georgie yearns for a future reunited with her estranged son, and Alex fixates on past love lost, Heisenberg points to the every-day love that, too often, goes unnoticed. The kind of love where, “if you pay attention to where it’s going or how fast its moving, you stop seeing it properly.” While there are moments that drag, Heisenberg is about as compelling as a 90-minute dialogue (with no intermission) in a black box theater can be.
Heisenberg by Simon Stephens. Directed by Joe Calarco. Scenic design by Pamela Weiner. Lighting Design by Andrew Cissna. Costume Design by Alison Samantha Johnson. Sound Design by Kenny Neal. Production Stage Manager Karen Currie. Production Assistant. Sophia Lewin Adams. Produced by Signature Theatre . Reviewed by Meaghan Hannan Davant.