When you focus too hard on where you think you’re headed, you can miss where you are in the moment.
That’s Simon Stephens’ down-to-earth interpretation of physicist Werner Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” in quantum mechanics. Stephens applies it to the two lonely souls in his 2015 play, “Heisenberg.” Burning Coal Theatre Company’s amusing, insightful production amply demonstrates how breaking with routine can lead to unexpected good.
Seventy-five-year-old butcher Alex is startled when a woman kisses him on the back of his neck while he’s sitting in a train station. Forty-three-year-old Georgie quickly apologies, saying she thought he was her husband. She then launches into telling Alex about her life and makes him uncomfortable asking him personal questions. His insular existence is unsettled by her aggressive personality and frank talk.
Although Alex thinks he’s seen the last of her, the next day she shows up at his butcher shop, obviously coming on to him. He’s flattered but wary, especially after Georgie admits to a different life story, telling him she loves to make things up. Eventually, she worms his past out of him, including a lost love early on and a drab existence thereafter. The successive twists and turns in their ongoing relationship ultimately reveal damages each need to heal and the life-altering effects they have on each other.
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Director Emily Ranii keeps the momentum barreling forward in a tight 85 minutes, moving her actors precisely over the nearly bare stage, a table and three chairs recombining for each scene change. E.D. Intemann brightly lights the characters while surrounding them with stark shadows, focusing attention on the actors’ faces and body language.
Sarah Hankins initially dominates the production with Georgie’s incessant chatter and hyperactivity. Tom McCleister’s Alex is aloof and skeptical at first, but becomes more animated as Georgie’s strange charms work their wiles. Once the characters really open up to the other, the actors show their dramatic skills through affecting scenes of introspection and vulnerability.
Hankins and McCleister humorously convey the pair’s quirks, but these characteristics seem applied from the outside for effect, rather than coming from a more believable place within. Nevertheless, the production puts the play’s theme across entertainingly and with professional polish.
Where: Burning Coal Theatre, Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20-21, 26-28, Feb. 2-4 ; 2 p.m. Jan. 22, 29, Feb. 5
Tickets: $25 (seniors $20; students/military/all Thursdays $15)
Info: 919-834-4001 or burningcoal.org