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  • Alexandra Garfield

The Principals of Uncertainty

How well can you ever truly know someone? That is the question at the core of A.C.T.’s current show, Heisenberg. Overall, it’s a good play. The acting is fabulous, and the set is intriguing. It’s very well conceptualized and written by its playwright, Simon Stephens, well known for his stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. However, it’s not a show that you’ll find yourself thinking about over and over again.

In many senses, Heisenberg is minimalistic. The cast is comprised only two people, four of the six set pieces literally rise out of the floor and retreat when they’re no longer needed, and only a handful of props are used in the entire show. But all this serves to highlight the show’s complex use of language and ideas.

On one level, the play is extremely conceptual, and on another level, it’s a very simple love story. Georgie, a middle-aged American woman, kisses 75-year-old butcher Alex on the neck in a London train station and shakes up his world. In just six scenes, they grow to like and understand each other. Georgie is fast-talking and high-spirited while Alex is a quiet music-lover and yet, as the story progresses, it becomes obvious how much their personalities complement each other.

During Georgie’s torrents of words (and expletives), the show explores complex relationships and ideas including how well we can truly know other people. This question even relates to the show’s title. Werner Heisenberg, was the twentieth century physicist who discovered the uncertainty principle. In simple terms, this theory states that if you know the momentum of an object, you will not be able to accurately measure its location and vice versa. This is because the act of measuring momentum and position affects the results and is particularly notable when conducting measurements at the atomic level.

Playwright Simon Stephens explains that this theory applies to human interactions as well. “If you’re carefully watching where somebody is going,” he says, “or what someone is doing, the likelihood is—you never properly see them.”

There are quite a few parallels to be drawn between this play and the Oscar-Nominated movie, Phantom Thread. If you saw and enjoyed that movie, then you’ll probably like Heisenberg as well. They’re entirely different stories, but they are similar in sentiment and in how the audience gets to see two very different people come together in fits and starts.

Heisenberg is quite a good play. It’s touching and funny and makes you think, but more than anything, it’s sweet. It’s not destined to become a classic and you might not remember it in a year or two, but it’s an interesting show and a fun night out.

Heisenberg is playing now through April 8, 2018 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets run $15 to $110.


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