|James Carpenter & Sarah Grace Wilson|
“If you watch something close enough, you never knew where it’s going or how fast you’re getting there.”
That observation made by one of the two principles in Simon Stephens’ 2015 play, Heisenberg, describes the inability to predict something, even and perhaps especially if one closely observes it – a phenomenon emanating from physicist Werner Heisenberg’s 1927 Uncertainty Principle. In Mr. Stephens’ May/December, romantic comedy, the more each of the two people who meet on a train station bench get to know each other (after the younger woman kisses out of the blue the older man on the neck), the more they each seem to know little truth about the other but also the more their mutual attraction seems to grow. At the same time, the outcome becomes less clear where the relationship will go next; although for us as audience, there is little doubt what the final outcome will likely be.
|Sarah Grace Wilson & James Carpenter|
Under the perfectly timed, restrained direction of Hal Brooks and with two actors who are so deliciously different in dozens of respects but who are spot-on similar in their intensity of character portrayal, American Conservatory Theatre’s current production of Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg should on its way to be as big an audience hit in San Francisco as it was in New York and in London. Georgie Burns is a forty-two-year-old woman who is a compulsive chatterer, with words (often four-letter ones) flying out of her mouth almost as fast and furious as her hands and eyes are constantly darting in all directions. Seventy-five-year-old Alex Priest, on the other hand, often receives her constant verbal bombardment hardly moving a muscle and certainly not saying more than an occasional word or short phrase. In their first meeting, almost everything she claims about herself soon comes out as mere fabrication, and the main thing he learns from her that is for sure true is “I love making things up.” But when she shows up a few days later (again, totally out of the blue) in his butcher shop, something starts to click within Alex that this wild woman who will not shut up may at least be worth his cracking an ever-so slight smirk that is almost a smile denoting his liking for her.
|Sarah Grace Wilson|
Sarah Grace Wilson is hilarious as Georgie as she keeps Alex (and us) guessing if and when she is ever telling the truth about herself, her background, or even her feelings – feelings that are constantly flaring and expressed in extreme measures. Her multi-pronged, persistent pursuit of this man thirty-years her senior is usually suspicious in true motive yet always leaving open the possibility that it is actually genuine. Even when her motives that involve a son of nineteen who has moved from London to New Jersey become clearer – a move largely to escape a mother he does not ever want to see again – there is still left doubt if the current emotions Ms. Wilson’s Georgie is showing are real or not. And yet, how can we, like Alex himself, not be attracted to Georgie’s energy, her spontaneity, and if nothing else, her ability to spin a good yarn.
Bay Area and A.C.T. veteran actor, James Carpenter, turns out to be the perfect choice to play Alex Priest. So much can be conveyed in that face marked with a life’s worth of rich experiences even with just one cheek’s twitch, one raised eyebrow, or one side of one lip barely rising. And when his Alex does speak, his oft-short responses to Georgie’s volume-size vomiting of words are gems that Mr. Carpenter says in just the right deadpan, matter-of-fact manner to contrast to Georgie’s fireworks.
Together, this pair of actors seems to be having the time of their lives in roles where each gets to bring mystery as to next moves and surprise in decisions made and actions taken. Together, they are also able to generate a highly sensual, almost animalistic, mutual attraction that is totally believable – as if both were in their twenties rather than in mid- and late-life. But even those demonstrations of attraction are open for wondering how real they are as the twists and turns in their relationship proceed.
The focus on the two actors and their interactions is kept fiercely acute by a large stage that is Spartan. But the high-polished, light-wood platform designed by Alexander V. Nichols has its own surprises as necessary elements of scenery (such as bed, table, or bench) rise from nowhere or are pieced together by the two actors in a kind of between-scene dance of wits and wills. Mr. Nichols’ lighting and projections provide a curtained background that subtly changes in mood and feel to reflect the shifts occurring throughout this ninety-minute romantic adventure playing out before us.
Nothing is certain in the relationship of Georgie and Alex; yet Simon Stephens does seem to be trying to tell us to use different ways of seeing this developing relationship if we really want to understand what is going on. As Alex says about music, “Music doesn’t exist in the notes; it exists in the spaces between the notes.” In the spaces between what appears at any moment as real between Georgie and Alex lie the hints of what is true between them. And for the audiences of A.C.T., there comes much fun in the guessing and the surety of what is really happening between these two of most unlikely lovers.
Rating: 5 E
Heisenbergcontinues through April 8, 2018 on the Geary Stage of American Conservatory Theatre, 405 Geary Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://www.act-sf.org/, in person at the box office Mon. – Fri. 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sat. – Sun. 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., or by calling the box office at 415-749-2228.
Photos by Kevin Berne
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