Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Titus Androgynous
Put into the form of the standard relationship questions, it becomes "where are we?" And "where is this going?" But Werner Heisenberg, the physicist who rose to fame in 1927 for his "uncertainty principle," would scoff. Becauseto him-you could never really know both, while it's going on. In science, it was one of those moments when even the most inquisitive minds had to concede to the maddening presence of the unknowable.
And that's the main source of tension in this gripping 70-minute play, directed at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis by beloved Artistic Director Steven Woolf (who's now easing into retirement, after more than 30 years at the Rep). Heisenberg, on the Rep's studio stage, is sharpened into the ultimate love storybecause, like the studio theater's recent Constellations, this is a love that can only exist, verifiably, from moment to moment.
The boy and the girl in question, Alex and Georgie, each have their own stories of romantic uncertainty, of being unceremoniously dumped, in their pasts. In their world, you just never know when you're going to find yourself standing on the train platform where someone is just suddenly going away. But here, the "boy" happens to be 75, and the "girl," 43. And owing to life's uncertainties, Alex has adapted to see the world through a steady, fixed lens of confined, simplified understanding, while Georgie has rendered herself wide open and frighteningly exposed. She's taking it all in all at once, overwhelmed and overwhelming.
She's fascinating, but exhausting, and he's dull, but very steady. If either were any younger, they play would be over in the first five minutes. But owing to their overdue "sell by" dates, as lovers, the story can stay deadlocked for a remarkable length of time, in spite of their stark differences (and those differences, as always, is where a lot of wry or pensive humor comes in). Dumbstruck by past, failed romance and now locked into opposite and extreme psychological focuses as they look upon the world, Heisenberg becomes a play about apertures. And, possibly, about the way each "lens" might perfect the other.
But because of the setup (that things can end so abruptly, and that this is just inevitably the last chance for either one of them), we are very quickly on the edge of our seats.
Susan Louise O'Connor plays Georgie, a sort of manic pixie dream girl, left by the side of the road decades ago; and Joneal Joplin is a butcher in a part of London that doesn't need butcher shops anymore. She is absolutely riveting, and the type who almost only exists on the stage, because she'd just explode, or be found dead in a ditch, the very next day. In Ms. O'Connor's portrayal, Georgie is like a giant eyeball, gaping at the world, taking in unbearable psychological wear-and-tear every second; and Alex (Mr. Joplin) is nearly closed up emotionally, by time and conviction, at a safe remove.
Thanks to Mr. Stephens' script, both are like characters from a great short story. And thanks to director Woolf, they have invisible fire between them.
Through November 12, 2017, at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, 130 Edgar Rd., at Big Bend Blvd. For more information visit www.repstl.org