Uncertainty principles – a review of “Heisenberg”

By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

When Georgie Burns (Robin Abramson) kisses Alex Priest (Anthony Heald) at a train station in London, a series of unexpected events are set into motion in Simon Stephens’ “Heisenberg.”

There are a lot of uncertainties once the character’s “meet-cute” in the St. Pancras railway terminus. Let’s take into account some key factors: She’s a brash, young American woman, and he is a quiet Irishman. She likes to photograph people, and he doesn’t like to have his picture taken. Then, there are the mathematical inequalities of the character’s ages, she is in her 30-40s, and he is 75.

Georgie is a whirling dervish. She muscles her way into Alex’s life, even though he rebuffs her earliest advances. Early on, he asks, “Why are you talking to me?” Alex, who seems bothered by her presence, doesn’t seem to realize he needs her. They need each other. But it is the variations of those needs that is the crux of “Heisenberg.” No spoilers, sweetie.

After a big revelation in the bedroom, the play barrels toward its conclusion. The momentum never wavers (no entropic uncertainty here).

Anthony Heald (as Alex) and Robin Abramson (as Georgie) enjoy a date after an unexpected chance meeting.

Werner Heisenberg was a German physicist whose theory states, “The more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa.” Picture Jeff Goldblum watching water droplets slide down Laura Dern’s hand. It all has to do with chaos and uncertainty. The play deals with the same issues, but with drama not science.

Heisenberg also theorized that when you observe something you also change it. Any actor will tell you that their performance will change based on the audience. On press night, the audience rose to their feet to applaud the Abramson and Heald and deservedly so.

Abramson and Heald are a dynamic duo.

In the hands of another actor, Georgie could be seen as annoying, cloying and grating. Not so here – thanks to Abramson’s likability. She is charismatic and charming. It’s a delight to watch her on any Pittsburgh stage.

Heald’s accent is light. It’s not one of those thick, Irish brogues that will make you wish you brought a translator. There’s nary one “feckin’” or “gobshite” in the whole play, and that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a very good thing. Too many actors always try to sound like Mickey “One Punch” O’Neill in “Snatch” when they strap on their Irish. Ironic shout out to Dialect Coach Don Wadsworth for turning down the Rah Rah Erin Go Braugh!

Heald is a very young looking 73, which puts him in the perfect age bracket to play Alex Priest, however, he didn’t seem old enough. That’s more a compliment than a criticism.

Tracy Brigden returns to the Public Theater to direct, and she does a masterful job. “Heisenberg” is ninety minutes with no intermission, and once you get past the first ten minutes…the play flies by.

Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set is spare. There are four benches that are reworked into various shapes, a butcher’s case, a bed and a dining table. Four benches that are onstage the entire time. You could call it a plank constant (Planck Constant?).

Excellent lighting work from the aforementioned Bembridge, who is perfectly matched with Zach Moore’s sound design.

Keep in mind that “Heisenberg” is not a spectacle to behold like “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” There is little pomp and circumstance. It’s a tight two-hander on a barren stage. It’s elegance and simplicity. Kudos to Ted Pappas for following “Forum” up with something completely unexpected.


“Heisenberg” plays until April 8, 2018 at Pittsburgh Public Theater’s O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.




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