Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 27, 2018

REVIEW: Shakespeare and Company, Heisenberg

Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, MA.
through September 2, 2018
by Jarice Hanson

Loneliness and social isolation are meaty topics for theatre and Simon Stephens’ “Heisenberg” explores these topics from the perspective of a 40-something year-old woman from New Jersey who meets a 75-year-old Irish butcher in London. On the surface they have nothing in common, but as the 90 minute one act unfolds, the unlikely duo stumble through random events that focus on the decisions that lead people to take actions in their lives that we might never have been contemplated. The reference to the Heisenberg Principle (also known as the Uncertainty Principle) is the metaphor for the possibility of what can happen in moments of the unknown.

Photo by Daniel Rader
At Shakespeare & Company, Malcolm Ingram (Alex) plays a subdued introvert and Tamara Hickey (Georgie) is the extrovert. He seems likeable, and she is manic in her energy and body movement. Director Tina Packer has her actors use the stage well, with every nuance planned and well executed, which keeps the pacing fresh and sets up a feeling that the audience is watching a dance of attraction and rejection. The moments of decision become tantalizing as the onlookers wonder what new direction is going to be taken next, and how the consequences might unfold.

Stephens is a prolific playwright who received the 2015 Tony for Best Play with “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” an investigation into the mind of an autistic teen that bombarded one’s senses with technology and sound. “Heisenberg” is much more subtle. Though it resembles a romantic comedy, it is one predicated on pain, and has unexplained holes that are expected to be acceptable. The audience never finds out why New Jersey-brash Georgie is working in London, and in this production, or how to understand why Alex is so impulsive. The excuse, perhaps, is that she is American and that seems to give her license to lie, hurl insults and behave without consequence.  She is hard to like, and though Hickey is an immensely likeable performer, the character of Georgie remains fatally flawed. Perhaps that is why the “wise old(er) man” becomes a familiar archetype to stabilize her flightiness.

“Heisenberg” seemingly breaks many of the rules of familiar theatrical rules, and is fascinating in its statement of the unpredictability of life. At the same time, the audience is left pondering the very questions of uncertainty, relationships, and what might commonly call “fate.”